Senior Colonel Zhou Bo set China-watchers atwitter last week when he informed a group including Admiral Samuel Locklear, big kahuna of the U.S. Pacific Command, that the PLA Navy has “sort of reciprocated America’s reconnaissance in our EEZ by sending our ships to America’s EEZ for reconnaissance.” One meme making the rounds among the punditry holds that Beijing has now conceded the U.S. interpretation of what sorts of activities are permitted in a coastal state’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). That interpretation affirms that the swathe of EEZ lying beyond the coastal state’s territorial sea and contiguous zone is the high seas. Flight operations, reconnaissance, and other routine military activities may proceed there unencumbered.
If Beijing is deploying units off Hawaii and Guam, it must be tacitly granting the legitimacy of U.S. and allied operations in China’s EEZ. Right? Don’t bet on it. (Especially if the Defense Department “sequester” is about to hit your paycheck.)