TAIPEI — A Chinese state institution warned this week that Beijing is ready to set up an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over the contested South China Sea, giving it the authority to screen foreign aircraft. But analysts say any enforcement would anger other countries without deterring traffic.
That measure would follow a series of steps to control the movement of foreign ships in the same sea, underlining China’s intent to hold its vast maritime claims after a world court tribunal ruled in July that it lacked a legal argument.
China calls 95 percent of the sea its own and its militarization of tiny islets since 2010 has angered officials from Jakarta to Washington. Beijing reportedly toyed with the idea of an ADIZ in July after the court verdict.
“More likely if they do decide to progress toward this, it would be kind of a patchwork approach in which military exercises have closure areas, and that would be the sort of trial point to extend the geographic scope of those or the duration of those from there rather than go for an all-out ADIZ,” said Euan Graham, international security director for the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney.
The government-run Chinese think tank, the National Institute of South China Sea Studies, said that because of an estimated 700 U.S. surveillance patrols in the sea last year, Beijing was ready to set up the air zone unless Washington stopped the activity.
The U.S. government counts a lot of China’s neighbors as allies and calls most of the sea international waters. China says the rival superpower is trying to contain its expansion.
Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan Vietnam and the Philippines also claim all or parts of a sea that’s rich in fisheries and may hold valuable undersea fossil fuel reserves. The South China sea covers 3.5 million square km (1.4 million square miles) from Taiwan to Singapore.
China could feasibly set up an air zone, called an ADIZ for short, using radars if it built up Scarborough Shoal west of the Philippines, said Carl Thayer, emeritus professor of politics at The University of New South Wales in Australia. That installation would give it the third corner of a triangle connecting the Paracel and Spratly island chains.