A nudge by air in 2013. A probe by sea in 2014. Will China take a crack on land in 2015?
For the sake of world peace, let’s hope not. However, China’s nudge and probe record, especially over the last two years, should worry diplomats and alert headline writers.
In 2013, China tested Japanese and South Korean political and military reactions by extending its Air Defense Identification Zone over contested islets and maritime boundaries. Tensions spiked as Tokyo and Seoul threatened retaliation.
Beijing’s 2014 sally into the South China Sea – a huge oil exploration ship entering disputed waters off Vietnam’s coast – thoroughly provoked Hanoi. It also stoked fears of Chinese expansionism throughout Southeast Asia, from the Philippines to Singapore and Indonesia.
2013’s ADIZ ploy had immediate consequences and strategic implications. Aircraft entering a recognized ADIZ must identify themselves to the national air controllers. If they fail to do so, they risk interception and destruction. Going down in flames is a very immediate consequence.
Japan was the primary strategic target for the ADIZ nudge. The new zone grabbed air space above a disputed chain of Japanese-administered islets northwest of Okinawa. Japan calls them the Senkakus. In China they are the Diaoyu.