US warns China over air defense identification zones

By William Lowther  /  Staff reporter in WASHINGTON

Thu, Feb 06, 2014 - Page 1

A senior US diplomat has warned China not to implement the air defense identification zone it has declared in the East China Sea and “certainly not” replicate such a zone in the South China Sea.

He said the air defense identification zone announcement had caused confusion, threatened to interfere with freedom of overflight in international airspace and raised questions about China’s intent and the manner in which it is dealing with its neighbors “particularly at a sensitive time and in sensitive areas.”

US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel made the remarks while briefing foreign press stationed in Washington on US policy plans in East Asia for this year.

Russel did not mention Taiwan once during the 45-minute briefing, but took a much tougher stand than usual against Beijing’s actions.

“On the security front, we’re working to modernize our alliances and ensure that we can cooperate seamlessly with partners to respond to crises and contingencies,” he said.

“The short point is that a peaceful and stable Asia-Pacific depends in large part on a credible US security presence,” he said.

Russel said that the US had expressed its concerns about the air defense identification zone “at a very high level” and had been candid, direct and constructive.

“The US is concerned by a range of developments in the East China Sea and in the South China Sea, particularly actions that are unilateral, actions that are a provocative assertion of claims in non-diplomatic, non-legal ways,” he said.

“That kind of activity raises questions about commitment to the rule of law... It raises questions about long-term objectives of some of the countries in the region,” he said.

Russel said the US had a “huge stake” in ensuring that the Asia-Pacific region remained open and respected international law.

“Both here and globally, the US has a national interest in freedom of navigation, in unimpeded lawful commerce, in respect for international law and for peace on the high seas,” he said.

“It matters to us and we take a strong position that all maritime claims must accord with international customary law,” Russel said.

He said the Chinese air defense zone was “not consistent” with regional stability and that it raised tensions at a time when tensions should be reduced.

“We see it as a move that increases, not decreases the risk of miscalculation or of confrontation or of accidents,” he added.

He said there was an “unfortunate spike” in tensions in the region, and the US and all countries in East Asia had a strong vested interest in lowering them.

“Although the US doesn’t mediate issues such as the disputes and tensions between the Japanese and the Chinese governments, we have a strategic interest in the peaceful resolution through diplomatic means of those disputes,” Russel said.

“No country benefits from tension,” he added.

“I won’t speak on behalf of the Chinese, nor will I share confidences, particularly with regard to the question of whether the Chinese may take further actions,” the assistant secretary said.

“But there can be no doubt in the minds of the Chinese leaders and decisionmakers that the US is very sincere in our counsel against steps that threaten the status quo, threaten the stable environment that has been instrumental in the extraordinary development of the Chinese economy,” he said.

Meanwhile, China’s declaration of the zone in the East China Sea has not led to a “significant” increase in interactions between its forces and US military planes flying in the area, the head of the US Pacific Command said yesterday.

There continues to be “professional” interactions between the two sides in the zone, US Admiral Samuel Locklear said during a conference call with reporters yesterday.

The US does not recognize the zone and has not changed its operations in the area, he said.

“We haven’t seen a significant change in those interactions since the establishment, or the reported establishment, of the air defense zone by the Chinese,” he said.

“So the good news is that military forces are acting professionally as we interact in these areas,” he added.

The US and China will continue to pursue opportunities to develop military relations and the US has invited the Chinese navy to participate alongside about 20 countries in the Rim of the Pacific Exercise this summer in Hawaii, the admiral said.

“I have it on good authority that they’re coming,” and India is also considering participating, he said. “These are confidence-building military measures that help us prevent miscalculation and help us to move forward peacefully.

Additional reporting by Bloomberg