By Perry Diaz
In an apparent move against Japan – and the United States — China established an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over a large portion of East China Sea, which includes the disputed Senkaku Islands. The “No-Fly Zone” took effect last November 23. In her announcement, China said that her military would take “defensive emergency measures” if aircraft entered the area without reporting flight plans or identifying themselves.
It is evident that China unilaterally imposed the ADIZ as part of her goal to eventually control the “First Island Chain,” which runs from Northeast China, thorough Japan, the Ryukyu archipelago, Taiwan, the Philippines, Borneo, Malaysia, and to the Strait of Malacca, and encompassing the Yellow Sea, East China Sea, and South China Sea. China could then break through the Miyako Strait between Taiwan and the Ryukyu chain or through the Luzon Strait between Taiwan and Luzon Island of the Philippines.
Currently, the U.S. operates six major air bases in Japan including the strategically located Okinawa Island, which is host to 25,000 American troops including 13,000 marines. Another 25,000 American troops are stationed on Japan’s main island, which is home to the forward-deployed USS George Washington Carrier Strike Group based at the Yokosuka naval base.
Recently, Japan deployed several units of surface-to-ship missiles on Miyako Island, which could control navigation through the strategic Miyako Strait. On the other side of Miyako Strait is Okinawa. Any attempt by China to break through the Miyako Strait would be difficult and could inflict heavy casualty to Chinese forces.
And this is where imposing a Chinese ADIZ could deny U.S. and Japanese forces from exercising total control of the Miyako Strait. If China exercises control of Miyako Strait, then she can make her next move, which is to dominate the Second Island Chain – a demarcation line from Japan through Guam to Indonesia – and bring China right to America’s doorsteps: Guam. And who would prevent China from declaring an ADIZ over the entire Western Pacific including the airspace over Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines? Outlandish the idea might be, but it is possible.
The question is: Would China stop at the Second Island Chain? There are now talks that China is looking far beyond the Second Island Chain; that is, a Third Island Chain that would extend all the way to Hawaii… and ultimately to the shores of California. By then China would be the biggest economic and military power on Earth.
In my article, “Xi Jinping’s Pax Sinica” (November 3, 2013), I wrote: “Last October 31, 2013, China’s state-run Global Times published an article, saying that escalating tensions between China and Japan over territorial claims to the Senkaku Islands could ignite a war. It said that Beijing was preparing for a ‘worst-case’ scenario of military conflict over the disputed islands.
“It seems that China’s worst-case’ scenario is a deliberate attempt to fulfill Xi’s ‘Chinese Dream,’ which is the revival of imperial China — or Pax Sinica (Chinese Peace) – that had maintained Chinese hegemony in Asia during the reign of the Ming dynasty. ‘The great revival of the Chinese nation is the greatest Chinese Dream,’ Xi said before taking office in November 2012.
“Surmise it to say, China’s carefully orchestrated actions in the past two years are leading to war against Japan… and ultimately against the United States, with the goal of ending American hegemony – Pax Americana — in the Pacific.”
But there is a stumbling block – America – who, since the end of World War II, had established herself as the unchallenged power in the Pacific with the First Island Chain as her first line of defense against, at that time, Russia or what used to be the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).
Three days after the ADIZ was imposed, the U.S. — in an apparent show of force — sent two unarmed B-52 Stratofortress bombers from an airbase in Guam to fly over the Senkaku Islands. Stunned by the U.S.’s quick response, China didn’t scramble her jet fighters to intercept the “intruding” aircraft. Evidently, China didn’t have any contingency plan to respond to the U.S. action. The Defense Ministry merely said that it identified and monitored the aircraft. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA), with all its past bravura, was caught off guard. This led some Chinese media to call the PLA a “paper tiger.”
The U.S. counter-action proved two things. First, it served as a stern warning to China that the U.S. would not take this sitting down. Secondly, the U.S. reassured her Asian allies that she remains committed to rebalancing 60% of her naval and air forces to the Asia-Pacific region.
No sooner had the B-52’s headed back to Guam than Japan and South Korea, in an act of defiance, sent their reconnaissance aircraft over the ADIZ. Again, there was no reaction from the PLA in both instances.
In an article in the Want China Times that appeared on June 27, 2013, Admiral Liu Huaqing, the mastermind of China’s modern naval strategy, was quoted as saying in 1982 that it would be necessary for China to control the First and Second Island Chains by 2010 and 2020, respectively. “The PLA Navy must be ready to challenge US domination over the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean in 2040. If China is able to dominate the Second Island Chain seven years from now, the East China Sea will become the backyard of the PLA Navy,” he said.
China has yet to control the First Island Chain, which put her three years behind her timetable. But by imposing an ADIZ over the East China Sea and planning to do the same over the South China Sea, China was hoping that U.S. would be shooed away from the Western Pacific. If China were successful in doing that, then the “Chinese Dream” is within her reach.
But there is one thing that prevents China from fulfilling the “Chinese Dream” and that is the United States’ intent to remain a Pacific power. And at the rate China’s neighbors are coalescing together to counter China’s aggression, she may have to find a friendlier and less threatening way of winning her neighbors’ goodwill and cooperation. Instead China is stoking fear among her neighbors in the same manner that Adolf Hitler stoked fear in Europe when Germany annexed Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland. Makes one wonder if history is repeating itself?
At the end of the day, China’s dream of going beyond the First Island Chain could turn out to be just that — a dream. Or it could be a nightmare nobody wants to wake up from.