China’s recent attempt to establish an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over disputed territory in the East China Sea was met with shock and horror from the U.S. and its Asian allies. But the shock and horror, as always with American foreign policy, is cynically selective.
First, China’s strategic maneuvers on the disputed land and maritime territories are always “escalatory” and “destabilizing” whereas similar actions by the U.S. or its allies are exactly the opposite. Secondly, U.S. opposition to China’s growing naval presence and expanding influence in the Asia-Pacific is based on disingenuous pro-America bias.
So, yes, China’s declaration of an ADIZ over disputed territory was something of an escalation in the international rivalry over the East China Sea. But if China’s action was an “escalation” which attempted to “alter the status quo,” as U.S. officials keep saying, then surely Japan’s decision in 2012 to purchase and then nationalize the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands (claimed by both Japan and China) was an escalatory attempt to change the status quo too.
And if China’s call for incoming aircraft to identify themselves to Chinese authorities was a “destabilizing” action, then surely it was equally destabilizing for the U.S., Japan, and South Korea to fly B-52 bombers and other military aircraft through the zone in defiance, without telling China. These actions could have easily “increase[d] the risk of miscalculation and misunderstandings” as Chuck Hagel warned about China’s ADIZ declaration.
The second point is perhaps more fundamental to this clash in the Asia Pacific. The primary argument from U.S. officials and pundits for why China can’t be allowed to make further naval gains in its own backyard is that America’s navy patrols the seas to ensure “freedom of navigation,” and China can’t be relied upon to do that.
First of all, as the International Crisis Group notes, “China’s domestic law…recognizes that, ‘All states, subject to international laws and the laws and regulations of the People’s Republic of China, enjoy the freedoms of navigation and over-flight in its exclusive economic zone…'” (EEZs extend 200 nautical miles off the coast of a country).
This argument that if the U.S. didn’t patrol the Earth with its navy, nobody would be able to enjoy freedom of navigation is absurd. In fact, a large part of the reason behind a worldwide naval presence is so the U.S. can choke off oil or trade to potential belligerents. That’s why we have fleets of navy warships patrolling the Persian Gulf every day. That’s why the U.S. navy makes the rounds in the East and South China seas, also high traffic for trade. So when people scream about China not respecting freedom of navigation, what they really mean is that they don’t want China to have the kind of naval control that the U.S. has.
Policing the world is strictly an American prerogative, don’t you know!?