June 13, 2015 | Research, Select Work | Harry Kazianis

China’s East China Sea ADIZ Gamble: Past, Present, and South China Sea Future?

“Aggressive,” “coercive,” “antagonistic,” and “hostile” are some of the words various Asia-security experts have used over the last several years to describe recent Chinese foreign-policy choices. Such talk heated up dramatically in November 2013 when China declared—with no official advanced warning—an Air-Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea, a geographic flashpoint between various powers in the region. This unilateral action sparked intense global debate as to the logic of such a move, but also amplified larger concerns over Chinese intentions throughout the Asia-Pacific and wider Indo-Pacific regions.


This essay, divided into several sections, offers a rationale for China’s ADIZ declaration, with an eye towards an even more important question: Will Beijing declare such a zone in the area of the South China Sea? This author believes China’s recent island-reclamation projects are an effort to create the core infrastructure for the declaration and enforcement of such a zone within the next several years. Unless serious action is undertaken to change Beijing’s calculus for creating such zones—utilizing confidence-building measures to change the core of its geostrategic thinking, along with strategies that will challenge such island reclamations—a Chinese ADIZ in the South China Sea is a near certainty.

There are various prospective motivations behind Beijing’s 2013 ADIZ declaration that are worthy of consideration—the rise of a great power acting in its own self-interest, a deeply rooted sense of historical wrongdoing at the hands of stronger nations in the past, combined with an attempt to shield itself from future actions, as well as nationalistic motives. While all of these explanations lie well within the realm of possibilities, this analysis will explore an equally if not more plausible rationale: China’s 2013 declaration and possible moves towards an ADIZ in the South China Sea should be seen as part of a series of actions that are rooted in an effort to push U.S. and allied forces away from Chinese “near seas” and areas of “core interest,” while at the same time attempting to negate operational concepts like the much- debated but often-misunderstood Air-Sea Battle (ASB) concept and associated weapons platforms that could challenge China’s growing antiaccess/area-denial capabilities (A2/AD).

This analysis will then conclude with recommendations on how a joint U.S.- Japan-Vietnam trilateral approach could impact Beijing’s decision making on a South China Sea ADIZ, utilizing a two-tier approach of incentives and deterring strategies to negate the foundations of any future ADIZ.

Originally Published by the Center for the National Interest