There are a group of very small islands in the East China
Sea that the Japanese call the Senkaku Islands and the Chinese call the Diaoyu
Islands. The islands, in my opinion, are ugly and look like little more than
shrubs on a pile of rock and yet they are currently the flash point between the
world's three biggest economies - the United States, China, and Japan.
Ownership and control of these now hotly disputed islands would
allow for oil, mineral, and fishing rights in surrounding waters and control of
very important shipping lanes. Interestingly, no state cared much about these
islands until fairly recently - the dispute intensified only late last year
(click here for more).
On 23 November 2013, China announced that they have established
an 'East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone' that quite interestingly
includes these disputed islands (click here for more).
Air defense identification zones (ADIZ) are not new in
international relations. In fact, these buffer zones have been unilaterally
established outside the sovereign airspace around both the United States and
Japan. States establish these zones for
security reasons - any foreign aircraft traveling in an air defense zone is
routinely required to identify itself before entering into that country's
The Chinese have, however, imposed a new wrinkle with the
establishment of the ADIZ. They have
stated that Chinese officials must be notified of any flight in the new East
China Sea ADIZ. Normally, ADIZ
notification procedures do not apply to flights only passing through such zones
- but apply only to those flights that intend to enter the establishing state's
sovereign air space.
Secretary Kerry recently stated, "We don't support efforts
by any State to apply its ADIZ procedures to foreign aircraft not intending to
enter its national airspace. The United States does not apply its ADIZ
procedures to foreign aircraft not intending to enter U.S. national airspace."
It seems that the United States intended to underscore
Secretary Kerry's statement with an actual flight. A joint U.S. and Japanese
exercise in the East China directly challenged China's new ADIZ procedure. Yesterday (26 November 2013), the United States
flew not one but two Air Force B-52 bombers over the disputed islands without
so much as a nod to Beijing.
Should the international community be concerned
about the new condition placed on the air defense identification zone in the
East China Sea?
Should the United States have flown the B-52
bombers into the newly established airspace?