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US Directly Challenges China’s Air Defense Zone

US Directly Challenges China’s Air Defense Zone thumbnail

Pair of American B-52 Bombers Fly Over Disputed Islands


The U.S. moved forcefully to try to counter China’s bid for influence over increasingly jittery Asian neighbors by sending a pair of B-52 bombers over disputed islands in the East China Sea, U.S. officials said Tuesday.

The B-52s took off from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam and flew more than 1,500 miles northwest, crossing into what China has declared as its new air-defense identification zone, at about 7 p.m. ET Monday. The U.S. deliberately violated rules set by China by refusing to inform Beijing about the flight, officials said.

China had warned of military action against aircraft entering the zone without notification, but didn’t respond to the B-52s, which weren’t armed and were part of a long-planned military exercise. A U.S. official said there was no attempt by the Chinese military to contact the B-52s. “The flight was without incident,” a U.S. official said.

By challenging a direct military warning, the U.S. flight risked a potentially destabilizing response by the Chinese. But the move also may have calmed tensions in the region by reassuring U.S. allies and keeping tempers in check in Japan, South Korea or other countries, Pentagon officials and defense analysts said.

The U.S. test was the outgrowth of months of growing tension in which China and its smaller neighbors have been jostling for control of waters with plentiful fishing stocks and potentially rich hydrocarbon reserves in the East China Sea and South China Sea.

Beijing and Tokyo have competing claims to a group of islands in the East China Sea, and China moved over the weekend to solidify its standing by declaring the air-defense zone, which encompasses the disputed islands, requiring aircraft to report in before entering the zone.

The U.S. and key Asian allies, including Japan and South Korea, criticized the requirements as a power grab by Beijing, and the Pentagon vowed to show it wouldn’t be bound by them.

That demonstration came when the B-52s flew over the area without the required notification to Beijing.

U.S. officials stressed that both the exercise and flight path were long planned. A senior defense official said that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, who was briefed on the exercise, had made clear over the weekend that the U.S. should continue to fly over the islands.

There was little debate in the Pentagon about canceling the exercise or adjusting its flight path. Changing the exercise, the official said, would make it appear that Mr. Hagel was backing down and that the U.S. was acquiescing to the new zone.

U.S. defense officials said there would be further military exercises in the area, and acknowledged it is possible that China could attempt to contact or intercept the aircraft involved in future flights.

Officials said the military’s Pacific Command routinely prepares for contingencies, but that planners didn’t think it was likely that China would attempt to challenge the flight.

U.S. military planes often ignore the air-defense zones of non-allied countries, and frequently respond to any radio hail by asserting the right to operate in an international air space.

In Japan, commercial air carriers were caught in the middle, with Tokyo pressuring them to ignore China’s request for cooperation. Japan’s aviation authorities Tuesday ordered the national airline association to disregard a Chinese request for the flight plans of all flights that pass over the area in dispute.

China moved to impose new rules on airspace over a group of disputed islands in the East China Sea. kyodo/Reuters

Japan’s move shows that Tokyo is determined to take a tough line in the territorial dispute.

“China’s measures have no validity in our country,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga at a news conference Tuesday evening. “We can’t accept a step that imposes unfair obligations on airplanes that fly in the zone set by China.”

Calls to China’s foreign and defense ministries after news of the B-52 flights went unanswered. In Beijing, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said earlier Tuesday that China’s new zone wouldn’t affect regular international civilian flights, according to a transcript on the Foreign Ministry website.

Asked if China would take military action against aircraft that didn’t comply with its demands in the zone, the spokesman, Qin Gang, said: “It was written very clearly in the announcement. With regard to the question you’ve asked, the Chinese side will make an appropriate response according to the different circumstances and the threat level that it might face.”

China’s Defense Ministry said Saturday that the Chinese military would take “defensive emergency measures” against aircraft that didn’t obey the rules in the new zone. It didn’t specify what those measures would be.

The establishment of the new zone was certain to have been approved by Xi Jinping, China’s new leader, who became military chief at the same time as taking over as head of the Communist Party in November last year, analysts and diplomats said.

But some analysts now believe that China might have overplayed its hand by angering not just Japan and the U.S., but South Korea and Taiwan—both of which have air-defense zones that overlap China’s—and several other countries that have territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea.

They see the move as part of a long-term strategy by China to try to gradually change the status quo in the East China Sea, and make it increasingly costly for Japan to enforce its claims, without ever crossing the red lines that might provoke an military conflict.

There have been inadvertent collisions between U.S. surveillance ships and planes and Chinese forces. In 2001, a Chinese fighter collided with a Navy EP-3 surveillance plane, forcing the American plane down on Hainan Island in the South China Sea.

American officials worried that without a U.S. challenge of the zone, Tokyo might feel it necessary to mount a more direct challenge to increased Chinese presence around the disputed islands.

“The U.S. has been measured in its response to the island dispute, but very clear that the U.S. recognizes that Japan has administrative control of the islands,” said Nicholas Consonery of the Eurasia Group, a research and consulting firm. “There is a perception that because we have more engagement that the geopolitical risk is increasing. While there is a new risk element surrounding the question on how China will enforce the air-defense zone, the broader story is how the U.S. presence will be a mitigating variable.”

The U.S. has stepped up exercises with B-52sin the region this year, largely to reassure allies. In March, the U.S. conducted an exercise in South Korea using the B-52s, and later followed up with a flight of B-2 bombers.

The flight of the B-52s, based at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, were part of a long-planned exercise called Coral Lightning. The bombers weren’t accompanied by escort planes.

Officials said the training exercise wasn’t specifically related to the defense of the disputed islands, but was instead a more generalized defensive exercise.

The U.S. notified Japan of the flight. The B-52s entered Japan’s long-established air-defense identification zone as part of the flight, and the U.S. was in contact with the Japanese Self-Defense Forces, officials said.

U.S. officials said they believe they had to challenge the air-defense zone to make clear they don’t consider its establishment appropriate or in the interest of regional stability.

The White House said Tuesday that the territorial dispute between China and Japan should be solved diplomatically. “The policy announced by the Chinese over the weekend is unnecessarily inflammatory,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters in California, where President Barack Obama was traveling.

China’s official Xinhua news agency announced earlier Tuesday that the country’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, was making its maiden voyage to the South China Sea, where China is also embroiled in territorial disputes with its neighbors.

The Liaoning left its homeport of Qingdao in eastern China on Tuesday and was being escorted by two destroyers and two frigates to the South China Sea where it would conduct training exercises, Xinhua said.

A Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman said Saturday that China was planning to establish more ADIZs, and many analysts expect one of them to be over the South China Sea, where China’s claims overlap with those of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

China had made some progress in easing tensions over the South China Sea in recent months with a charm offensive in Southeast Asia that was helped by President Obama’s failure to attend a regional summit in Brunei in October because of the U.S. government shutdown.

That was seen by many Asian governments as a sign of declining U.S. influence, despite its pledge to refocus military and other resources on the region as part of a so-called “pivot” toward Asia.

Beijing’s progress was undermined in the eyes of many, however, when it initially announced a donation of just $100,000 to help victims of a devastating typhoon in the Philippines, while the U.S. sent an aircraft carrier to spearhead the relief effort.


18 Comments on "US Directly Challenges China’s Air Defense Zone"

  1. DC on Wed, 27th Nov 2013 5:00 am 

    US provocation continues. First, it was sending nuclear bombers to buzz North Korea’s airspace, now this. The US will only be satisfied when the world is engulfed in flames. Both from the wars it is constantly trying to provoke, and from the exhaust from its primitive barbaric gas-powered suburban utopia.

    China should have shot them both down and claimed it was an ‘accident’. Works for the uS. The US routinely shoots at innocent civilians and later claims ignorance. They could hardly object to its terrorist air force planes being shot down in a ‘mistake’, right?

    The real question is, what business is it of the US’s to get involved in a pissing match over some worthless rocks far from the amerikan ‘homeland’? To put it bluntly, its none of the US business, and to send nuclear bombers into the area, even ancient rust-buckets like the B-52 is clearly meant to provoke and enrage people. Nothing more.

  2. dissident on Wed, 27th Nov 2013 5:59 am 

    Next time some Russian aircraft flies over Japan’s EEZ (not even the ADIZ) perhaps there should be less bitching and moaning about “violation of airspace”. The only legal airspace is the part overlying the territorial waters extending 12 nautical miles from the shore. The EEZ, ADIZ and whatnot mean nothing.

    The US encourages its “allies” in the region to make aggressive contrivances such as the legally worthless ADIZ and then watches as neighbours fight over these zones: divide et impera.

  3. HARM on Wed, 27th Nov 2013 9:06 am 

    These aren’t “worthless rocks”, but rather islands not so coincidentally situated next to some very substantial undeveloped oil fields. And for the record, the U.S. (and Japan) has maintained control over them for many decades –i.e, this is not some new out-of-the-blue land grab. Whether or not the U.S. should be entitled to *maintain* control over them is up for debate; however it is the Chinese who are acting as aggressors here, not the U.S.

  4. Arthur on Wed, 27th Nov 2013 11:15 am 

    The US is keeping it’s options open for the time after the coming financial meltdown at home. Nothing diverts the attention better away from problems at home than a full blown war elsewhere. Expect European and Russian politicians having great trouble surpressing vile smiles while China and the US lock horns.

  5. BillT on Wed, 27th Nov 2013 12:33 pm 

    “… while the U.S. sent an aircraft carrier to spearhead the relief effort. …”

    The Us is trying to get their feet back on the Philippines soil after being kicked out in 1992. Therefore, the big power play of sending in the Marines. The Philippine people don’t want them back. And China sent their one and only aircraft carrier this week.

    The Us is trying to provoke the Dragon to awake and take out the US financially. Wait and see.

  6. chilyb on Wed, 27th Nov 2013 1:36 pm 

    how many weeks worth of oil are we talking about anyway?

  7. eugene on Wed, 27th Nov 2013 1:47 pm 

    Stupid, childish games so fitting for the US. The whole issue has nothing to do with us as it is a Asian issue. On the other hand, if you think you have the right to dominate everything and everyone on the globe, then you do things like this. Kinda like the bully at the local bar.

  8. rockman on Wed, 27th Nov 2013 2:22 pm 

    On April 1, 2001, a mid-air collision between a United States Navy EP-3E ARIES II signals intelligence aircraft and a People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) J-8II interceptor fighter jet resulted in an international dispute between the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China, called the Hainan Island incident.

    The EP-3 was operating about 70 miles (110 km) away from the PRC island province of Hainan, and about 100 miles (160 km) away from the Chinese military installation in the Paracel Islands, when it was intercepted by two J-8 fighters. A collision between the EP-3 and one of the J-8s caused the death of a PRC pilot, and the EP-3 was forced to make an emergency landing on Hainan. The 24 crew members were detained and interrogated by the Chinese authorities until a statement was delivered by United States government regarding the incident. The exact phrasing of this document was intentionally ambiguous and allowed both countries to save face while simultaneously defusing a potentially volatile situation between militarily strong regional states.

    This time it appears the Chinese didn’t take the bait and just ignored the US as though it were a child throwing a tantrum. The Chinese have warships in the sector…a tad more intimidating than unarmed aircraft at 40,000′. I’m guessing the ultimate insult might be for China to not acknowledge/protest the incident. Also good to remember China and the US have a joint military exercise in the Pacific planned in 2014. No doubt that will make Japan feel snug and warm. LOL.

  9. Feemer on Wed, 27th Nov 2013 3:28 pm 

    The US has a mutual defense pact with Japan. If China were ever to attack Japan over this petty issue – three rocks -then the US is OBLIGATED to attack China. boom, ww3 starts. That is how WWI and WWII started, all these damn mutual defense treaties.

  10. bobinget on Wed, 27th Nov 2013 7:44 pm 

    It should be noted there was no mention of ‘oil’in this WSJ article.The closest
    any news org has come is the BBC which refers to the desuted oil as ‘natural resources’.

    God forbid we should explain what the next war is to be fought over. That would be premature and could raise oil prices.

  11. PrestonSturges on Wed, 27th Nov 2013 10:10 pm 

    If China attacks Japan, the US will probably declare it’s not obligated to pay its debts to China.

    That would force the rest of the world to pick a side regarding whether the dollar or the yuan is worthless as a result. The rest of the world would jump at the chance to cut China’s throat economically.

    In 48 hours, China’s economy slams to a stop. Imports cease, the lights go out, and by the end of the week dissolves in a sea of flames as rioting breaks out in every city and town.

  12. BillT on Thu, 28th Nov 2013 1:57 am 

    Preston, you are wrong about “rest of the world” wanting China’s fall. Maybe the Western world, but not the other 6 billion people.

    Your China bashing is obvious. Your grasp of reality is lacking. The US is the one to suffer the way you mention above, in any war with China. The first shot will be the dumping of the trillion$ of US debt China holds. Then there would be the shooting down of the satellites the US needs for a war. At the same time, the Chinese would be attacking the US electronically through the internet.

    And, maybe, if necessary, taking out the cities on the continental US with sub based missiles off the coasts and intercontinental missiles over the pole. All well within modern China’s capabilities.

  13. PrestonSturges on Thu, 28th Nov 2013 6:17 am 

    Yeah right, China is ready to go toe to toe with America. Sounds like one of those crazy North Korean propaganda videos. I’m impressed that China

    OK we get it, China is going through its awkward adolescence when it gets unwanted boners it doesn’t know what to do with. It’s looking for a military slam dunk but doesn’t have any place to flex its muscle. So you are left with the stupid childish fantasies.

  14. PrestonSturges on Thu, 28th Nov 2013 6:22 am 

    (…..I’m impressed that China actually wastes money on paying bloggers to say stupid things every times there’s a story about China).

    You have no idea how much Chinese students studying in America hate China. They don’t believe any of the bullshit that comes from government bloggers. Actually nobody believes that crap, but the Chinese students in America also have deep hatred of the Chinese government.

  15. Arthur on Thu, 28th Nov 2013 10:03 am 

    If China attacks Japan, the US will probably declare it’s not obligated to pay its debts to China.

    Yeah, and China in response will confiscate all US business assets in China. And stop accepting the dollar. Nice business opportunities for Europe opening up.

    That would force the rest of the world to pick a side regarding whether the dollar or the yuan is worthless as a result.

    dJeezus Kraist, comrade Preston wants to play a ‘game of knockout’ with China.

    We vividly remember what happened to John Kerry’s army against tiny North-Vietnam and now Preston is going to take on 1300 million Chinese single-handedly. Go for it Preston, we come later, honest!lol

    The rest of the world would jump at the chance to cut China’s throat economically.

    Our Goebbels expert now seems to believe that the US has so much goodwill in the world, that Washington can do what it wants and the rest will follow, just like was the case in Iraq. Not. Nobody wants to cut China’s throat, except you and your merry band of Zionist neocon handlers in Washington.

    In 48 hours, China’s economy slams to a stop. Imports cease, the lights go out, and by the end of the week dissolves in a sea of flames as rioting breaks out in every city and town.

    In the highly unlikely event that European US satraps would be so foolish to follow the US in a war against China (they won’t), Russia immediately would halt all shipments of oil and gas towards Europe and deliver it to the Chinese and the lights would go out in Europe first. The Europeans of course know this and for this reason alone would never buy into your delusional propositions. Oh, and don’t underestimate Chinese nationalism. China is communist in name only, they have removed portraits from Jews like Marx and Lenin a long time ago. For Chinese state media it is extremely simple to generate anti-US hatred, similar to that incident with Japan over a few insignificant rocks recently.

    Preston is typical NWO material and thinks he is on top of the world now that he can sit at any place he likes in a bus.

    OK we get it, China is going through its awkward adolescence when it gets unwanted boners it doesn’t know what to do with. It’s looking for a military slam dunk but doesn’t have any place to flex its muscle. So you are left with the stupid childish fantasies.

    It is very likely that it were Russia and China that blocked the US & Israel, both in the recent Syria and Iran issues. And now China has openly hinted to ‘de-Americanize’ the world, meaning downsizing US power via the wallet. Childish fantasies? Preston is missing the fact that the entire world is quietly walking away from the dollar. US international goodwill is at an all-time low after Iraq, the 2008 meltdown, Syria and the NSA drama, even with their European allies.

    You have no idea how much Chinese students studying in America hate China.

    Any proof to back this statement up? The Chinese I meet in projects always go home once a year and hang out with their own people after work, like all ethnic groups do. Of course they love it when in the US they can make 3-5 times the amount compared to what they can make at home, but that is not going to remain the case that way much longer in a society on Fed steroids like the US. Don’t count on their loyalty towards the US in case of a US-Chinese conflict.

    but the Chinese students in America also have deep hatred of the Chinese government.

    Perhaps, but not for China. And who cares about Chinese students in America anyway? As Stalin once remarked about the pope: how many divisions does he have anyway?

    No Preston, the only war you are possibly going to fight is the one against the Tea Party crowd and other Constitutionalists, the (white) guys with the 190 million guns, the sun glasses and the SUVs, once the EBT time bomb goes off after a US government default, initiated by China and the rest of the world dumping the dollar. And yes, the US might very well be tempted to wage a war against China in response of a default of their own, but it remains to be seen how many Americans are willing to die in Asia, once the pictures come in from American vessels sunk by Chinese supersonic missiles. Expect the secession movement to pick up steam in a grandiose manner.

  16. PrestonSturges on Thu, 28th Nov 2013 4:06 pm 

    The Chinese are destined to go through the usual stages of colonial hubris and empire building followed by a dramatic economic contraction. But with overpopulation and limited resources, their fear is that they will skip straight to the economic contraction without the empire ever really taking off.

    To create this empire, they are trying to create the traditional web of economic resources that support a manufacturing and military empire, the way the Dutch did even though they had few resources themselves. But that business model was on the way out 100 years ago.

    China has kept America relevant in that region for the last 50 years by claiming Taiwan. Also, American conservative vastly overestimate the Chinese “threat” for their own benefit.

    Likewise, China has its own “military industrial complex” of hybrid state/private firms (Norinco etc) that need to create a story line of military tension to maintain their political influence, political power, and personal wealth. Everything else is propaganda.

    The idea of a “US-Chinese conflict” is childish beyond belief. If China did something aggressive, there wouldn’t be any need to shoot back because the international markets would cut their throats by the end of the business day.

    The view from inside the empire is distorted, because nobody inside can accept the idea that nobody outside gives a shit about their huge plans. When they claimed this airspace (as they say on the internet) “zero fucks were given.” But that’s not quite accurate, since the B-52 flyover was clearly a planned scenario in a file labeled “Ways to show China the world doesn’t give a shit about them.”

  17. PrestonSturges on Thu, 28th Nov 2013 4:14 pm 

    But I will agree that the Tea Party makes America look weak and stupid to the rest of the world. Of course the Tea Partiers claim America is “declining,” but (going by what you say) other countries look at the US and see the Tea Party IS the decline.

  18. Arthur on Fri, 29th Nov 2013 10:13 am 

    Tea Party in decline? The recent government stand still proves otherwise. And regardless if the TP is in decline or not, the US is in steep decline, worse than Greece:

    This does not change one iota to the fact that North-America, relatively speaking, will still be one of the better places to live on this planet, even after the coming financial crash and subsequent social implosion, triggering all sorts of segregational processes. Think of the rise of the very free combined states of Alabama, Kentucky, Missisipy and Louisiana under the firm rule of governor Winfrey, member of a very loose US confederation a la the confederation of Switserland, where Germans, French and Italians live happily together for centuries… because they are strictly razorsharp segregated.

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