In response to Japan’s assertiveness over the three islands known as Senkaku, which the government purchased from a private Japanese landowner in the East China Sea in September 2012, China has also stepped up its assertion over the same islands known to them as Diaoyu, which Beijing claim as theirs based on historical facts – what ever that means.
The same arrogance, aggressiveness and historical facts are being demonstrated by China in their claim of the whole of the South China Sea, to the consternation of most of the nation members of the ASEAN, including the Philippines.
But, while we and the rest of our regional neighbors continue to be victims of China’s intransigence and lay at the mercy of this giant nation’s military power, which is catching up fast with the greatest at the moment, the U.S., Japan, however, is facing up to the challenge as it has intensified sea patrols and even threatened to shoot down Chinese drones flying over the disputed islands.
It was, perhaps, based on this exasperating scenario that China, in wanting to prove that they are in fact the legal claimant of the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, has raised up the ante and went on to publicly declare that it had imposed an “air defense identification zone” over part of the East China Sea that includes the disputed and uninhabited islands.
The Chinese Defense Ministry even warned that any noncommercial aircraft entering the zone would need to submit flight plans in advance and maintain radio contact with Chinese authorities or else face unspecified “defensive emergency measures.”
Could you believe that?
From regional, China became an international bully, overnight!
For how else could China’s declaration and action be interpreted, when the haughtily established air defense zone was not merely meant for Japan alone, but the world community?
If China thought it was serious in their intents, the more that Japan and the U.S. showed their opposition by not acknowledging the zone. They were soon joined by South Korea and Taiwan, both allies of the U.S., which rejected it also.
Not only that. China also deployed its aircraft carrier, escorted by two missile destroyers and two missile frigates, to the disputed area in the South China Sea after announcing its plan of its maritime airspace defense zone.
On the pretext that the aircraft carrier, Liaoning, will carry out “scientific research, tests and military drills”, it is actually more like making a statement to the whole world, in general, and to the contesting ASEAN nation members, in particular, to stay away from meddling.
And so, if China thought that it has strengthened its claim or position over the major portion of the East China Sea that includes the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, because of its warning to noncommercial aircraft from entering the zone, then they were in for a huge surprise.
The surprise was so huge, in fact, that the Chinese seemed stunned and was not able to react, as they said they would, when, in less than 48 hours later, the U.S., in defiance, ordered two long-range B-52 bombers to take off from Guam and fly in the disputed no-fly zone airspace in the East China Sea.
What made the purpose of defiance more determined is that the warplanes spent about an hour in the disputed zone before returning to the U.S. territory in the Pacific.
According to Pentagon officials, the flights were intended to send a clear message to Beijing that Washington would not permit China to restrict freedom of movement in international airspace or waterways.
This statement is very encouraging, indeed, especially for those in the South China Sea region, whose territorial claims are based on what the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) says.
China’s hostile declaration and action in the East China Sea over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands has provided the U.S. a perfect opportunity to, once more, reassure its Asian allies of its support and commitment in maintaining stability in the Asia-Pacific region.