East China Sea gets scary —again

Another choreographed spectacle of brinkmanship is underway in the East China Sea, as Beijing launched two fighter planes Nov. 29 to track flights by a dozen US and Japanese reconnaissance and military planes that flew into in its newly announced "air defense identification zone" (ADIZ). (AP) The US planes included a contingent of B-52 bombers, that overflew disputed islands without announcing themselves, an open defiance of the new ADIZ. A map on the BBC News report of the incident shows both the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and the Chunxiao gasfield immediately to the north, which lies partially within Japan's claimed exclusive economic zone and entirely within that claimed by China. BBC News also reports that two Japanese airlines (so far) have said they will disregard the ADIZ, while Japan Today reports the US is advising airlines to comply—while stressing that it does not recognize the ADIZ. All of this is going on as the joint AnnualEx 2013 US-Japanese naval maneuvers are taking place off nearby Okinawa—involving dozens of warships, submarines and aircraft from the US Navy's 7th fleet and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) (CNN, Nov. 28)

Beijing has also simultaneously dispatched its only aircraft carrier to its new base established at Sanya (also rendered Sansha) in the South China Sea—in an island group also claimed by the Philippines. This is the first time the carrier has been mobilized to Sanya, but Beijing says new carriers now scheduled to be built will also be based there—an ambition greeted with trepidation not only by Manila but also Vietnam, which likewise disputes Chinese control of South China Sea islands. (SCMP, Nov. 29)

Both Japan and the US are being openly intransigent on the ADIZ. "The measures by the Chinese side have no validity whatsoever on Japan, and we demand China revoke any measures that could infringe upon the freedom of flight in international airspace," said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe before the Diet. "It can invite an unexpected occurrence and it is a very dangerous thing as well." The US Defense Department issued its own statement, saying: "The United States is deeply concerned by the People's Republic of China announcement today that it is establishing an air defense identification zone in the East China Sea. We view this development as a destabilizing attempt to alter the status quo in the region. This unilateral action increases the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculations. This announcement by the People's Republic of China will not in any way change how the United States conducts military operations in the region." (China Matters blog, Nov. 25) Note, of course, that the US intention to ignore the Chinese ADIZ further "increases the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculations."

Commentator Wu Liming of the official Chinese news agency Xinhua responded by noting that the US and Japan both have their own ADIZ, accusing them of hypocrisy:
Their logic is simple: they can do it while China can not, which could be described with a Chinese saying, "the magistrates are free to burn down houses while the common people are forbidden even to light lamps."
It is known to all that the United States is among the first to set up an air defense zone in 1950, and later more than 20 countries have followed suit, which Washington has taken for granted...

Japan set up such a zone in the 1960s and it even one-sidedly allowed the zone to cover China's Diaoyu Islands. But when China set up the zone covering the Diaoyu Islands, Tokyo immediately announced it "unacceptable" and Abe even called China's move "dangerous." It is totally absurd and unreasonable.

The US ADIZ presumably does not cover any disputed territory, although the Japanese one certainly does.

Hardlly coincidentally, all this is in the news just as China is about to launch its first-ever Moon mission. A rocket carrying a rover vehicle dubbed the "Jade Rabbit" is to blast off Dec. 2 from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan, in a mission named Chang'e 3. (AFP, Nov. 30) Fox News is of course openly playing up the space race angle, warning that the Jade Rabbit could interfere with NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE), which is already orbiting the Moon.

Some "leftist" voices in the states, like the always predictable website Popular Resistance, are lining up behind China in the ADIZ dispute in precisely the same kneejerk manner that Fox lines up behind the US. We continue to say that the real progressive demand is that all sides stop their dangerous saber-rattling, that both Japan and China leave the Chunxiao gasfield alone—and that all imperial powers, East or West, keep their hands off outer space!

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Shinzo Abe's Yasukuni addiction

Shinzo Abe just can't stop visiting the Yasukuni shrine. But this was really a hell of a time to go and do it. Very hepful, Mr. Abe. Beijing issued its requisite howl that the visit is "absolutely unacceptable to the Chinese people," and Seoul expressed "regret and anger." The good news is that the US embassy in Tokyo  said in a statement it was "disappointed" with Abe's action, which would "exacerbate tensions" with Japan's neighbors. (BBC News, Dec. 26)