Air defence zone goes warm and fuzzy

The US sends a couple of B-52s through China’s recently declared air defence zone. And, to paraphrase the old peace-and-love poster, ‘nobody came’. The zone probably overlaps corridors patrolled pretty much daily by P-3 Orions and other US and Japanese aircraft, so the public announcement of the bombers’ passage was simply an obvious gesture to prove a point. At the same time, Japanese airlines state that they will not now comply with China’s demands for aircraft entering the area to identify themselves. On top of these snubs, the whole affair is a gift to Japan’s hawkish premier Shinzo Abe, who is about to unveil a defence review.

This can’t be going to Beijing’s plan. But that assumes it was a civilian idea, which it quite possibly wasn’t. China wheels out Professor Shi Yinhong, occasional surrogate spokesman, to tell the South China Morning Post that the zone had been in the pipeline for some time and would stay ‘forever’. This sounds suspiciously like: “The PLA jumped this on the government suddenly without warning, and now we’re trying desperately not to lose tons of face.”

Whether it is going to the PLA’s plan is another issue. Professor Shi says “the provocative stance of the Abe government” is the ‘cause’ of the air defence zone. But it could just as easily be the other way round: the Chinese military wanting the zone to ‘cause’ a (yet) more belligerent and militarized Japan, thus a bigger budget and a bigger voice in national affairs for the PLA, or whatever else they have in mind.

Despite passing control of the islands to Tokyo along with the Ryukyus in the early 70s, the US officially takes no position on the sovereignty of Diaoyu/Senkaku; nor, if it comes to that, does Japan, which refuses to acknowledge the existence of a dispute. But Washington is bound by treaty to defend Japan. By acting, or at least talking, more aggressively, Beijing is in danger of pushing the US into more open and active de facto support for Japan’s right to the islands, thus drawing bigger and darker battle lines for a possible future (and bigger budget, bigger voice, etc).

Echoes of the not-so-distant past: in 1995, China’s military conducted missile tests over Taiwan, prompting the US to send a couple of carrier groups into the area, leading Beijing to back down in semi-humiliation and vow to get big fancy ships of its own; and in 2007, the Chinese military fired an anti-satellite missile, blowing up a target, leading to international condemnation for leaving potentially hazardous debris in orbit. The PLA, of course, does not serve the Chinese state; it belongs to the Communist party, and you sometimes wonder whether the party needs the army more than the army needs the party.

On a slightly encouraging – or at least lame, even pitiful, note – Professor Shi assures the world that this fearsome-sounding Air Defence Identification Zone will be of the soft, warm and cuddly variety. “We will be flexible,” no less, especially if you are an American or Taiwanese aircraft. After all these years, B-52s still have this sobering effect on people.

On other aviation matters…


Ugly Airport Terminal of the Year Award undoubtedly goes to Shenzhen’s, which the SCMP rather helplessly describes as ‘futuristic’. That might have been true in the late 50s of Eero Saarinen’s at Dulles International, outside Washington DC. This monstrosity at Baoan is not so much clumsily literal as plain (plane?) ridiculous. Is it just me or do the air bridges bring to mind evacuation slides?

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14 Responses to Air defence zone goes warm and fuzzy

  1. Dr Doo-me-a-little says:

    All airports are fairly ugly. Have you ever seen a pretty bus terminal ? In all fairness, I don’t find this Shenzhen thing any more or less ugly than Chek Lap Kok, at least not on the outside.

  2. Sid says:

    The Forbidden Zone is designed to last 1000 years.

    You may joke, but the Celestial Empire has a 7000-year history of setting the agenda: the evil barbarians invariably huff and puff, but then end up trembling and obeying.

    How long before the Senkakus become part of Sansha “City”?

  3. Sojourner says:

    Splendid analysis, Hemlock.

    But sure;y there must be shume confusion. If two US B52s had really entered China’s new air defence zone it would have been mentioned in the Mainland media. But there is nary a squeak on this from those fine tumescent organs, China Daily and the Global Times.

  4. Tiu Fu Fong says:

    Xinhua et al are sparing the feelings of the Chinese people.

  5. Ex Tax Payer says:

    There’s an article in a very recent National Geographic magazine that the USA several years ago ( under Reagan? ) quietly extended its territorial and sea exploration rights to all the sea within 200 miles of its coasts and dependent territories ( which includes a few islands in the Pacific ) .

    (And if I’m not mistaken, it’s actually 200 miles from the edge of the USA’s continental shelf, which itself is far out in the sea)

    I wonder what the USA would do if China flies a few bombers down the West coast of the USA a couple of hundred miles offshore ? This has all the makings of the USA downed spy plane affair.

  6. reductio says:

    Sour grapes reaction to the typhoon. Countries ignoring inviolable air space regulations. All we need now is an aircraft carrier to crash into a reef in the South China Sea.

  7. gweiloeye says:

    I wonder if China realise they have no friends short of a couple of TPLACs (tin pot little african countries), and if they pick a fight I doubt the sea would be any place for them to win a fight.

    They have their 1 Aircraft carrier (it may as well have a big target on it saying “sink me”), and as for their “secret” submarine base (with est. 6 subs) on Hainan (at Yulin just east of Sanya immediately next to Yalong Bay National Resort District featuring resort hotels operated by Banyan Tree, Hilton, Marriot, Sheraton, Ritz Carlton, and Holiday Inn right outside of the entrance) well wouldn’t that be one of the “first strike” points for any opposition? I will probably be proved wrong by the remaining naval force though.

    Airport airbridges look like escape shutes because airports are horrible places where people all wander around like zombies or are so pissed off they look like they are going to kill everyone. Escape is the only option.

  8. Every new airport looks as if it was designed by Norman Foster – and most of them were.

    @Sid – the Celestial Empire actually has a multi-thousand-year history of expanding wildly, absorbing various barbarian states (in the minds of Chinese leaders, all states other than the Middle Kingdom are barbarian) around its perimeter, then imploding into a period of internal conflict (Warring States, Three Kingdoms, 20th century warlords, etc.) before some strong leader (Qin, Mao) emerges to reunify it and begin the whole process all over again. Currently it’s in the expansion phase, but history suggests that sooner or later it will overreach itself and the entire cycle will be repeated.

  9. Sid says:

    PB, Agreed on all, except that the trend line, with admittedly considerable variation, has been onwards and outwards, with few Han remaining outside the imperial limits but plenty of non Han brought in to enjoy the Celestial munificence.

    Even when China makes tactical mistakes in the aim to sweep all before her, it makes little difference: unless there is regime change, as you say, I can’t see the juggernaut retreating, simply slowing down sometimes and all the while watching for opportunities to take territorial, financial and increasingly cultural revenge for all the perceived humiliations of the past.

  10. Mjrelje says:

    The zone is not a problem for anyone. The fact that it almost deliberately starts at the Senkakus is. Hats off to the yanks for the gall of it. Yee Ha!

  11. Mjrelje says:

    As for the new SZN airport and its uncanny resemblance to a Lamma centipead, can you imagine being inside that with a 5 hour delay due to ‘smog’? No bookshop, no ‘free’ Internet, no ‘bar, nothing except for fruit and cartons of fags. Nice.

  12. Baldleon says:

    @Sid: “*perceived* humiliations of the past”?

    I guess I would extend my gratitude towards…
    … the British drug pushers that opened trade during the Opium Wars;
    … the burning of the Old Summer Palace since the upkeep was costing the Qing Empire too much money;
    … granting foreigners extraterrtoriality all the way up to WW2 as it would be an injustice for them to follow local Chinese laws

  13. anon says:

    Now hear this: “Japanese ADIZ is huge and way bigger than China’s and have been in place for decades. All the news stories we have seen about “Japan scrambles F-15″ against either China or Russia have actually occurred in international airspace that Japan has claimed as its ADIZ. The actual ADIZ itself has also been increased several times in the past, drawing sharp rebukes from their neighbors.” (Quoted from Peter Lee, ASIA ONLINE)

  14. nulle says:

    PB, what China is doing lately is inviting the Japanese to build a couple of AA platforms around the Senkaku islands, which is morbidly stupid. At this rate, the Chinese gov’t will have few friends or few others China can bully around economically.

    Eventually, China throwing out the ‘ability’ to nuke the West Coast of North America simply inviting a M.A.D first/counterstrike to major cities in China. Their navies and army isn’t quite ready to take on anyone outside of their neighborhood anytime soon. I suspect the Russians can take down China if Russians decides to do so.

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