Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The First Pacific Line of Death

When Khadaffi was in charge of Libya, pre-flip, we often had to defend freedom of navigation by crossing his self-declared "line of death" in the Gulf of Sidra. Now we have to do the same with China.

China declared an air defense identification zone in the East China Sea that other countries--especially Japan with their Senkaku Islands within the zone--must obey. Japan rejected that claim. American rejected that claim. Even South Korea rejected the zone.

And we wasted no time in demonstrating that we do not accept China's right to make such a claim:

Two U.S. military aircraft have flown around disputed islands in the East China Sea without informing China, a Pentagon spokesman said on Tuesday, defying China's declaration that the region falls into a new airspace defence zone.

China hopes to push others back from their claims with lots of little moves that keep moving the ball further out to sea wherever they don't meet effective resistance. Our move to challenge the zone was correct, but we have to do this regularly and be prepared for China to shoot at us to enforce their zone.

Remember, defending against a line of death in the Mediterranean led to conflict with Libya.

UPDATE: China did not react to our freedom of flight mission:

Responding to the flight of two unarmed American B-52 bombers through China’s new air defense zone over the East China Sea, the Chinese government said Wednesday it had monitored the planes but had decided not to take action despite the American refusal to identify the aircraft.

Monitoring the flight of two very large planes quite possibly older than I am should not have been a challenge. So saying they monitored them was a low level of competence.

More significant, China did not send up fighter planes to shadow our aircraft.

Maybe next time. Hopefully we have fighter aircraft within range the next time we challenge the zone. You never can tell when the Chinese will escalate. Don't forget the EP-3 incident, after all.

Unless we wish to let China get its way, this will be a routine mission for Pacific Command going forward.

Prepare for much higher pucker factors.

UPDATE: Our allies join us:

Japanese and South Korean military aircraft flew through disputed air space over the East China Sea without informing China, officials said on Thursday, challenging a new Chinese air defense zone that has increased regional tensions and sparked concerns of an unintended clash.

Although it appears that the South Korean flight was limited to the portion that extends into South Korean territorial waters. So unless South Korea makes further flights through the wider zone, this is simply a flight in defense of their own waters rather than an expression rejecting the entire Chinese zone. That's less than fully helpful.

UPDATE: Pucker factor squared:

China sent fighter jets and an early warning aircraft into its newly declared air defence zone, state media said Friday, as Japan and South Korea stated they had defied the zone with military overflights.

So far nobody has been up there at the same time as the Chinese. That will change.

We can't let China get away with an attempted annexation of air space over Japanese islands.

But we can't just let this proceed on its own without some diplomacy that gets China to back down from this dangerous course.

We and the Soviets played dangerous games of chicken at sea until we established rules of the road to prevent these incidents that could spiral into war.

The Chinese leaders are playing with fire here:

The Communist Party seeks to drum up popular support by tapping into deep-seated resentment of Japan for its brutal invasion of China in the 1930s.

Such nationalist passions are easily aroused, and Chinese social media users called for Beijing to retaliate against Washington.

At what point does the build-up of nationalist sentiment get a Chinese pilot to shoot in a crisis or lead Chinese leaders to order their assets to open fire out of fear of angering their own people?