Competing for Control of the East China Sea

China's Declared Air Defense Zone.

China’s Declared Air Defense Zone.

The Obama Administration today issued new guidelines urging US air carriers to comply with China’s demand that it be informed of any flights through its new “maritime air defense zone.” The Chinese government announced the new zone on November 23, and has sent military flights to intercept and monitor several aircraft operating in the area. Close US allies in the region, including South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan, have rejected China’s call, stating they will not honor the new zone and declaring that China’s unilateral declaration unnecessarily raises tensions in the region.

There are several theories as to what’s driving China’s move. One is that it’s the result of growing tensions between Japan and China, which to date have centered on the status of the uninhabited Senkaky/Diaoyu islands which lie inside the region. Another asserts it results from China’s fear of being “hemmed in” by US regional allies and by China’s desire (much like that of Russia during the Cold War) to maintain access to oceans and support for its blue water navy. A funny (and perhaps a bit scary) video made by Taiwanese civilians highlights the tensions.

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