Transparency in Troubled Seas


One month ago, the Center for Strategic and International Studies launched a new web-based program, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative. The premise of this project will be familiar to many of you: maritime competition in Asia has been steadily increasing in recent years, and doing so in an environment of informational opacity. Maritime geography makes it difficult to monitor events at sea as they occur, and when it comes to disputed territories and competing maritime claims there are numerous actors, each with its own national narrative. AMTI aims to be a source for regular information updates on maritime security issues in East Asia. It also hosts expert analysis from leading maritime security scholars worldwide, as well as historical and documentary resources for researchers.

On the theory that Asia maritime issues are of inherent interest to readers of a national security law website, Benjamin Wittes has asked me to post on Lawfare information about the debates and resources we are hosting at AMTI. In this post, I’m going to cover two issues—the most recent of which we released this week.

The penultimate installation of AMTI focused on the one-year anniversary of China’s declaration of an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea. An ADIZ is an identified area of airspace extending beyond a national boundary in which civilian aircraft are required to identify themselves and may be subject to interception for that country’s national security.  There are few international agreements that govern ADIZs: they are zones that individual countries establish for their own safety and security, and they do not confer any sovereign rights.  The United States was the first country to establish an ADIZ shortly after World War II. Several countries in Asia also have them, including India, Russia, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and since November 23, 2013, China.

China’s announcement of its first ADIZ was controversial for several reasons. First, China’s ADIZ includes multiple disputed territories—most prominently, the Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu in China), which are administered by Japan, but also Ieodo (Suyan) Rock, which South Korea claims too. This led the ROK to expand its own ADIZ. Second, China made its declaration without consulting other states in the region, which is not illegal but does break with custom. Third, China declared that it would require all aircraft, including military aircraft, to identify themselves to Beijing, regardless of whether or not they were bound for China as opposed to passing through the zone in transit elsewhere. This led the United States to fly two B-52 nuclear-capable bombers through the ADIZ in a demonstration of military noncompliance. ADIZs generally increase transparency and reduce the risk of accidents, and Beijing insists that this one is no different. But last November, US and other officials insisted that these three unique features made the East China Sea ADIZ fundamentally destabilizing.


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