Late last month, China declared a new air defense identification zone (ADIZ). After the move had been criticized for almost 20 days, South Korea announced that it had extended its own ADIZ. While China has been lambasted for its move; the US has lost strategic credibility over the issue, Japan has remained determined to gain a peaceful conclusion, South Korea has managed to get itself more international space and Taiwan has been totally marginalized.
If the nation does not change its strategies, the strategic pressure it will face after the middle of next year will be 10 times what it is now.
During a national defense strategy meeting between South Korean and Chinese officials on Nov. 28, China rejected South Korean demands that it withdraw its ADIZ declaration. In response, to express its disdain for the declaration, Seoul dispatched military aircraft to enter the zone without notifying Beijing. Then, after US Vice President Joe Biden had visited South Korea, it announced the expansion of its own ADIZ, and the US welcomed the move.
This showed that the US agreed with the South Korean expansion and that Seoul capitalized on knowing that Beijing would have no choice but to put up with the declaration because it would be unwilling to anger Washington and Tokyo by protesting it. So it was a smart move by South Korea.
China’s declaration angered the countries around the East China Sea and pushed China into a corner that it cannot escape from. However, the disjointed attitude and actions displayed by the US throughout the whole process has also damaged US credibility.
Initially, the US state and defense secretaries were highly critical of China, saying the move was provocative and an attempt to change the “status quo.” The US flew B-52 bombers through the zone to display its resolve. However, it then recommended that its civil aircraft follow China’s requests, which met with strong criticism from various countries, particularly Japan. When Biden visited Japan, China and South Korea, he made no hint that China should withdraw its declaration. He also did not discuss the ADIZ issue during an open meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), which shows how the US’ stance differs from Japan’s and South Korea’s.
It was not until Biden had a closed-door meeting that he discovered how tough Xi’s stance on the issue was and the US used Biden’s later visit to South Korea to send out the message that it was unhappy with China, while also saying that it welcomed South Korea’s expansion.
These developments showed how dissatisfied the US was with China. Biden came back empty-handed from his Asian visit and the US’ strategic resolve was questioned, severely hurting the credibility of US President Barack Obama’s administration.
Some have cited as evidence that Japan and the US hold different points of view the fact that Japan demanded that China withdraw its declaration while the US only requested that China should not treat the zone as national airspace, and that Japan is under joint pressure from the US and China.
However, this line of thinking is not totally correct because unlike Japan and South Korea, which are directly affected by the zone, the US is more indirectly affected. It should be expected that the US would not demand that China withdraw its declaration.
More worthy of attention is that Japan has not become desperate because the US holds a different opinion on the issue, nor has it expressed any hope that the US should side closely with its ideas. The Japanese government may have decided not to place much hope in the US having realized that the Obama administration, which is mired in trouble at home, has placed most of its attention on the Iranian nuclear problem.
Japan is primarily concerned with protecting its own interests and is probably only relying on the US to not forget its treaty obligations. This may also imply that China has seen through the Obama administration’s disjointed actions and is now willing to take action to change the “status quo.”
Initially, President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) government cooperated with China and ignored requests from the US and Japan for cooperation. Officials even concocted a ridiculous story, in an attempt to align themselves with China, that civil aircraft had been intercepted by the Japanese military. Even more laughable was that in face of South Korea expanding its ADIZ, the Ma government attacked Seoul saying that it was trying to escalate tensions. However, the US welcomed Seoul’s move and China also believed that it was in line with international practice.
This clearly shows that the US did not agree with the Ma government’s stance. Since the Ma administration was questioned and had its stance rebutted by the US, Japan, China and South Korea in the short space of 20 days, it is safe to say that the government’s ability to isolate the nation is unmatched.
As if the strategic isolation was not bad enough, given that China has no intent whatsoever to withdraw its ADIZ declaration, this problem will only get worse. At the end of this year, Japan is set to release a revised version of its core defense policy and in the middle of next year it will amend the Guidelines for US-Japan Defense Cooperation, which could result in amendments that are more targeted at the ADIZ issue. Also, given that the US will be holding midterm elections at that time, the whole ADIZ issue will become even more heated.
Now that the US and Japan are suspicious of Taiwan, China is just waiting to see how to apply further pressure. As long as the Ma government keeps its pro-China stance and does not show the guts to negate the ADIZ declaration, the strategic isolation away from the US, Japan, South Korea and China will continue, and the nation will find itself in even deeper trouble next year.
Lai I-chung is the vice president of Taiwan Thinktank.
Translated by Drew Cameron
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