Nearly three weeks ago, Beijing’s announcement of an East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) set in motion vociferous reactions in the region and beyond, and debates over the policy and its implications continue apace. The specific reasons that the ADIZ was seen as provocative have been well-rehearsed: The declaration of an air defense zone is not itself destabilizing, but this one was particularly problematic because Beijing included multiple disputed territories, insisted that it applied to all aircraft (not just those bound for China), and failed to confer with other states in the region before the announcement.
With the declaration several weeks behind us, analysts have now turned to what the ADIZ means for the future. Some have suggested that the ADIZ is a sign that the United States needs to get tougher on China. Others have argued that with the announcement, Beijing overplayed its hand and Washington should allow it to walk back the policy. One such analyst has recommended an end to the public ADIZ debate while the U.S. and China attempt to establish rules of the road in private. Implicit, but rarely acknowledged, in this latest round of analysis is that the November 23 announcement marked an inflection point of sorts in the U.S.-China relationship, and that Washington may (or may not) need to re-tool its approach for dealing with China’s rise. Wherever one comes down on this debate, the inquest should not remain tacit. The ADIZ announcement laid bare the difficulties of managing great power relations during times of power transition. Circumspect analysis of why the November 23 declaration seemed so provocative is necessary if the United States and China are to manage their relationship peacefully.