China to defer establishment of South China Sea ADIZ

The Chinese government has informally decided to abandon the establishment of an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in the South China Sea for the time being, the Mainichi Shimbun has learned from multiple Chinese government sources.


Territory desputes in the South China Sea

When China set up an ADIZ in the East China Sea in November last year, it had announced that it would establish a similar zone in the South China Sea in the near future. Now, however, China appears to have adopted a more cautious approach, taking into account its ongoing territorial disputes in the South China Sea with the Philippines, Vietnam and other countries, and the fact that the establishment of its East China Sea ADIZ sparked international criticism.

Upon establishing its East China Sea ADIZ, China required aircraft flying into the zone to submit their flight plans to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs or aviation authorities. It said it would take defensive measures against aircraft that failed to comply with the order.

Internationally, it is uncommon for planes to submit flight plans to a country's authorities when entering an air defense zone, and countries including Japan, the United States and South Korea, together with the European Union, protested to China that its move infringed on the freedom of flight. Criticism subsequently emerged within the Chinese government that establishment of the zone was premature.

According to one Japanese Defense Ministry source, the Chinese military currently does not have the resources to monitor the expansive South China Sea around the clock. This is believed to have hindered the establishment of a new ADIZ.

China intends to consider establishment of the zone within its new National Security Commission, which it decided to set up during the third Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China in November last year. The commission is headed by Chinese President Xi Jinping, while Chinese Premier Li Keqiang serves in the No. 2 spot, alongside Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. Below these high-ranking figures are standing committee members, who will include officials on the level of deputy premier. A Chinese government source said the commission will be an "extremely important and powerful" organization.

According to one Chinese government source, the Chinese military ran "out of control" in the establishment of the East China Sea ADIZ. The military is apparently keen to establish an ADIZ in the South China Sea as well. The level of control Xi and other officials can wield over the Chinese military in the National Security Commission will therefore likely have a bearing on when a South China Sea ADIZ is declared.

China regards the path from Africa through the Indian Ocean into the South China and East China seas as an important sea lane, and it has been boosting its military strength so that it can protect it by itself in the future. The establishment of a South China Sea ADIZ would fall in line with such moves.

Manachi Shimbun

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