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More than a neighbourly dispute awaits Joe Biden in Asia

US Vice President Joe Biden’s trip to Asia next week could not come at a more timely moment. It is the first high level visit since President Obama cancelled his trip during the government shutdown in…

All parties are posturing for influence. Fotopedia

US Vice President Joe Biden’s trip to Asia next week could not come at a more timely moment. It is the first high level visit since President Obama cancelled his trip during the government shutdown in October and comes amidst renewed tensions in the region.

Countries on Joe Biden’s list include Japan, South Korea and China – all currently involved in a spat following China’s abrupt announcement last week of an Air Defence Identification Zone in the East China Sea.

The air defence zone covers territory also claimed by Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. China has said all planes transiting the zone must file flight plans and identify themselves, or face “defensive emergency measures”.

As noted elsewhere, the establishment of such a zone is not exceptional, nor is it in contradiction with international law. Many nations have done so in the past, including all the other regional stakeholders in the case of the East China Sea. But, the devil is always in the details. In this case, the details lie in the rules governing China’s zone and its overlap with Japan’s. Plus, Beijing has established its zone over the contested Senkaku islands, which fall between the two.

The stakes here are not negligible. Japan and China have both been rattling sabres over who has sovereignty of the islands and China has been trying hard to challenge the US-Japan defence alliance. This year they have made frequent incursions into Japan’s waters and air space, and patrolled their borders.

None of this has succeeded in driving a wedge between Washington and Tokyo. Quite the opposite. U.S. officials have moved from somewhat ambiguous statements about their mutual defense treaty with Japan to explicit recognition that the Senkaku Islands are covered by Article V of the treaty. This implies that any Chinese attempt to seize the islands will result in US intervention.

Perhaps China felt encouraged by a similar affair in the South China Sea, the so-called Scarborough Shoal. A standoff with the Philippines in mid-2011 resulted in China’s effective control of the area. But the Senkakus are not just uninhabited rocks with no significance. The area is an important source of fish stocks for all surrounding states and it is likely to contain significant deposits of oil and natural gas.

More important than natural resources – the South China Sea has those too – is territorial integrity. The Philippines made a stand against China despite having no navy and air force to speak of because it felt its territorial integrity is under the threat. Joe Biden should take note.

China is playing a multidimensional game. Asserting territorial claims and challenging America’s alliance structure in the region forms an important part of it. Beijing is also testing reactions so it can adjust future steps and planned actions elsewhere.

Making predictions in the realm of international politics is a tricky business, especially when the situation is still developing as it is now. Yet, it is more likely that Beijing will go for soft enforcement as opposed to strict enforcement of the announced rules. That is not a reason to rejoice though. Already Japan has begun considering how to deal with increasing incursions of Chinese air patrols, including drones. And shooting them down is one of the options that Tokyo has mooted. The establishment of China’s air defence identification zone does not make this dilemma any less urgent.

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  1. Paul Felix

    Builder

    So no need to panic, what China is doing is legal, it only affects planes and all they have to do is let the Chinese know they are traveling through the zone, the USA has agreed to that in regard to civilian aircraft, Japan has no long standing right to these remote islands (as well as being much closer to China than Japan).
    It will not affect shipping or our trade, as they are already moving in Chinese waters
    Still our F.M. on L plates can't keep her mouth shut.
    They were quick enough to defend Sri Lankan torture and the killing of 50,000+ innocent civilians - paraphrasing Abbott's shit happens, and saying Indonesia has a right to West Papua.
    But the rabid right defend, yet again, stupidity and self interest as the main drivers of our foreign policy.
    All we need to do now is wreck our relationships with Malaysia and Singapore and we will be in Abbott heaven, a white neo colonial outpost pretending to be the USA sheriff.

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    1. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Paul Felix

      Exactly right Paul. It is common practice for nations to establish an ADIZ over certain areas, and many nations in this region have an ADIZ way beyond their land territorial boundaries, and just because a country puts one in place does not mean they have any special rights to divert aircraft which penetrate the ADIZ.

      Further, an ADIZ only applies to civilian aircraft, and military aircraft are exempt from the requirement to identify themselves and to file flight plans - which is exactly why the media attention to the B-52 flights last week was nothing but a beat-up.

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    2. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Well, if this is a common practice, then fine. But what is the rationale behind treating civilian and military aircraft differently? I could imagine ANY country wanting notification of ANY incoming transport - air or sea - just to make sure there are no possible accident situations, or whatever, but surely those considerations would apply to all craft, whether sea, air, civilian, or military?

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    3. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Andy Cameron

      Its the rules of the air Andy. Civilian aircraft are subject to the International Civilian Aviation Organisation (ICAO) rules - military aircraft aren't.

      An ADIZ is nothing to do with air traffic control - it is supposed to be for countries to know which aircraft which are approaching their territory, and if any unknown aircraft approaches they will intercept it. But just because they intercept an unknown aircraft does not mean they either can or will do anything to it. They actually don't have the right under international law to take defensive action unless the entering aircraft demonstrates hostile intent.

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    4. Michal Thim

      PhD candidate, China Policy Institute at University of Nottingham

      In reply to Paul Felix

      Paul, you said: Japan has no long standing right to these remote islands (as well as being much closer to China than Japan).

      What makes you say that? The pre-1895 claims of any of the claimants are problematic in terms of evidence. Since 1895 Japan has exercised effective administrative control, excluding the period of US occupation of course.

      Also, if you argue it is China's based on geographic proximity then you are making a very problematic argument and certainly one that has no support in international law. Moreover, Taiwan is much closer to Disaoytai/Senkaku than China, unless, of course, you are adhering to Beijing's version of One China policy. Last but not least, Ishigaki prefecture is more or less as close to Senkakus as Taiwan, both around 170km.

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    5. Paul Felix

      Builder

      In reply to Michal Thim

      Sorry I wasn't suggesting international law sided with China's case, though with international law that my change in the future, or next week.
      40 years ago China was in almost no position to make any substantial claims as they were struggling to identify who they were, not demanding small uninhabited islands.
      Timor-Leste is doing a similar thing with their maritime borders now, international law (ie treaty with Australia) probably sides with Australia, but Timor-Leste is attempting to change that.

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    6. Ken Alderton

      PhD student, former CEO

      In reply to Paul Felix

      I believe that both the United States and Japan are taking a much wider view of this move by China than is canvassed in this article.
      They see it as being be a major step in China's long term strategy of exercising control over the East and South China Seas. In January 2013 the Chinese published a new official map adding a new "dash" to the long standing "9 dash line" which delineates its claim that the whole of the East and South China Seas are Chinese territorial waters. The United States, Japan…

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    7. Paul Felix

      Builder

      In reply to Ken Alderton

      So it appears we must oppose China so "we" can continue to control the shipping lanes.
      Perhaps if we were not so belligerent, not just Aus., but the west in general, countries like China may not act as they do.
      The bottom line is we have form for illegally invading Asian countries, napalming and defoliating huge areas of forest, carpet bombing countries that have no connection to the illegal war we initiated. We can then skip a bit and look at Libya and the manner in which we subverted a security…

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    8. Ken Alderton

      PhD student, former CEO

      In reply to Paul Felix

      If we don't protest China's moves to declare the whole of the East and South China Sea Chinese territorial waters we will be out of step with every one of the countries to our north. Why is is automatically assumed that a protest is the first step in a declaration of war. What we do by protesting is to support our near neighbours in keeping the passages and their Exclusive Economic Zones under their control. It also happens to be in our national interest.
      Our government seems to be totally oblivous to the fact that Indonesia and its ASEAN partners are actively promoting a negotiated solution to these matters in the face of unilateral action by China. We're too busy counting boats.
      Defence White Papers are not the exclusive preserve of the armed forces.

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    9. Michal Thim

      PhD candidate, China Policy Institute at University of Nottingham

      In reply to Michal Thim

      It still does not explain what is your base to claim that Japan has no long standing right to these islands...and I am really curious to learn why.

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    10. Michal Thim

      PhD candidate, China Policy Institute at University of Nottingham

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      ADIZ is always beyond the territorial boundaries, that is kind of the whole point. But the rationale behind ADIZ is different one than you seem to suggest. Purpose of ADIZ is to identify in time potentially hostile aircraft attempting to access the territorial air space. It makes sense because developments in long range guided ammunition and the very fact that modern warplanes travel in speeds faster than sound, dealing with them after they enter territorial air space is too late. So ADIZ does not…

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    11. Michal Thim

      PhD candidate, China Policy Institute at University of Nottingham

      In reply to Paul Felix

      Gentlemen, from your arguments it looks like it was the U.S. or Japan who established ADIZ over Chinese territory...and that is not precisely what happened, is it?

      Paul, I am in no way defending napalm bombing and agent orange use in Vietnam, but how exactly is this relevant to the curent situation?

      And sorry for nitpicking, but Libya was carpet-bombed? Really? Are you familiar with the definition of the term? If you are, then I wonder how possibly would you apply that not only to Libya but to any aerial campaign since the Vietnam War. I am not even going to detials on the causes of Libya campaign, but certainly it was not because the West did not like Kaddafi (on contrary, they were quite cozy with him before the civil war started...but I am sure you know)

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    12. Paul Felix

      Builder

      In reply to Ken Alderton

      Defence White Papers are not the exclusive preserve of the armed forces.
      For the record I said helped.
      I think being out of step with our northern neighbors is of less importance to us than keeping in lock step with the USA.
      I think China agrees with you about Exclusive Economic Zones, probably why they are flexing muscles they did not have 50 years ago.

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    13. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Michal Thim

      "....So ADIZ does not apply ONLY to civilian aircraft, in fact civilian airplanes are the least concern for the purpose of ADIZ. It is just so that civilian carriers typically comply with...."

      No Michael. Military aircraft are NOT required to comply with the requirements of an ADIZ to indentify yourself when entering. That's the law.

      In peacetime, a military aircraft which is approaching and intending to enter another country's territory will comply with civil procedures and report on entering the ADIZ. But if the military aircraft has no intention of entering that country's territory and may be just entering an area covered by the ADIZ, then there is not only no obligation to report, in most cases it probably won't. Our military aircraft do it all the time.

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    14. Ken Alderton

      PhD student, former CEO

      In reply to Paul Felix

      In this case Pesident Obama has made is clear in a number of statements that the United States supports the nations bordering the South China Sea against China's claims.
      The problem is that China is talking about extending its territorial waters, not its EEZ, up to the boundaries of the East and South China Seas. That is quite different.

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    15. Michal Thim

      PhD candidate, China Policy Institute at University of Nottingham

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Mike, please read the report, it will make the whole discussion somewhat more informed.

      I did not say that military plane has to comply. In fact, no aircraft is legally required to comply because ADIZ is established over international space. ADIZ is domestic law and other state may or may not choose whether to comply with it. Neither civilian carriers, nor military aircraft is obliged to follow one country's domestic law in an international space (i.e. beyond territorial waters, exception of course is law enforcement within EEZ but that is strictly limited to economic activities). Civilian carriers do that simply because of security of their passengers.

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    16. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Michal Thim

      Thanks Michael, but I am very familiar with the legal and operational requirements of an ADIZ - having been an Air Force officer (including an operations officer and planner) for 23 years.

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    17. Michal Thim

      PhD candidate, China Policy Institute at University of Nottingham

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Then - of course - you can hardly argue that other states and civilian airlines are legally obliged to comply with ADIZ because there is no such obligation whatsoever, that would have to be grounded in an international law which is not. No country, nor private entities, nor individuals have an obligation to follow one country's domestic law in an international air space.

      You may still like to have a look at the report, Peter Dutton is a renowned expert on the matter.

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    18. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Michal Thim

      "....Then - of course - you can hardly argue that other states and civilian airlines are legally obliged to comply with ADIZ..."

      Which is exactly the reason why I did not do so.

      And I have read the Dutton report - thanks for providing it. But it did not add to my knowledge on the matter.

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    19. Michal Thim

      PhD candidate, China Policy Institute at University of Nottingham

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Alright, checking the discussion from the beginning, I may have actually misinterpret you argument...sorry for that. That was not my intention.

      The origin of the discussion was that you argue that ADIZ apply only to civilian aircraft. My argument was intended to be that: it, strictly speaking, does not apply to any aircraft, civilian or state, unless they are willing to comply (or the enforcing side is willing to push hard for compliance). The reality is that civilians usually comply whereas state's aircraft (military as sub-category) do not.

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  2. James Hill

    Industrial Designer

    What part of Mutually Assured Destruction do any of the players not understand?

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    1. Paul Felix

      Builder

      In reply to James Hill

      China never bought in to that scenario, it was USSR, USA and Europe. More later Israel joined the club. That club is still in operation. In this case, theoretically, the USA could activate it to defend Japan (they have said they would not for us), but the USSR does not exist and Russia does not have a mutual defense agreement with China.
      So rest assured the Chinese will test the West but are not stupid enough to cause a war, a skirmish perhaps but not a war.
      Bearing in mind they are by far the holder of USA bonds the mutual assured destruction would probably be more financial than military.
      Chinese history of commerce probably means they realize that would be stupid.
      It is not the Chinese we must fear but the nutters who control the Congress.

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    2. James Hill

      Industrial Designer

      In reply to Paul Felix

      Thank You Felix, but I, and many others have already worked out that assurance for ourselves.
      The Chinese "Space program", like the others has military applications.
      And, how, precisely, does a nation not buy into MAD, by developing Thermonuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missile capabilities?
      In short Felix, and contrary to your facile assertions on the subject, China has bought into Mutually Assured Destruction, in a big way.
      Thanks for your advice.

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    3. Paul Felix

      Builder

      In reply to James Hill

      There is a difference between defense and destroying the planet which is the stated purpose of MAD was. A personal example would be having a gun for protection or laying mines around a whole neighborhood to destroy everything on your whim.
      As an digression why do you call me Felix? Is it only to be offensive?

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    4. James Hill

      Industrial Designer

      In reply to Paul Felix

      Mistook you for another, with Felix as a first name.Sorry.
      Mutual Assured Destruction was not about destroying the planet but about dissuading the "powers" from following a path of no return to a planet destroyed by nuclear weapons.
      So we have had, since the first use of nuclear weapons in a world war, only defacto localised wars, without the use of nuclear weapons.
      World wide or even regional conflagrations without the use of nuclear weapons as the last resort is unthinkable and so will not happen.
      Isn't that obvious?

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    5. Paul Felix

      Builder

      In reply to James Hill

      Sorry no it is not. The present PM of India is quite capable of using nuclears, there are many in the Republican party who would also, I am sure there are the same in both China and Russia.
      No one could leave out Israel.
      I trust and hope it will not happen but the history of humanity argues otherwise.
      To the subject though, clearly China does not trust it's neighbors that have aligned themselves totally with the USA, it does not trust the USA to act as an honest broker, who would. Their actions are therefore predictable and understandable.
      It is past time for us to show good will and demonstrate our reliability and trustworthiness, perhaps then China will have less need to act as it does or, more accurately, as we do.
      Sadly it was the intention of the League of Nations and then the UN to realize this, the West, more than most, have let those organizations down.

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  3. Cat Mario

    Player at Mario

    Sorry, it's not about this topic but Paul Walker really died? :(

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  4. Stephen Ralph

    carer

    This story/issue has many complexities that will have the protagonists walking on eggshells.

    One of the layers is territorial imperative, then there's military/security, and the biggie - economics.

    Australia has a small part to play, but it could have big implications for us.

    Can't wait for chapter two.

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