Care­ful han­dling bet­ter than knee-jerks

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

The de­bate fol­low­ing China’s Nov 23 an­nounce­ment of its East China Sea Air De­fense Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion Zone is a solemn re­minder that ma­jor coun­tries, such as China and the United States, must im­prove how they han­dle their dif­fer­ences.

Soon af­ter China’s an­nounce­ment, the US took dras­tic ac­tion by send­ing two “un­armed” B-52 bombers from Guam into China’s new ADIZ to show its de­fi­ance, al­though Pen­tagon of­fi­cials also stressed that it was a rou­tine flight ar­ranged a long time ago.

Ja­pan and the Repub­lic of Korea also sent flights into the zone with­out re­port­ing to the Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties. Such de­fi­ance is also meant to pro­voke and there­fore is not con­ducive to solv­ing prob­lems.

Ja­pan re­acted be­cause China’s ADIZ over­laps with Ja­pan’s ADIZ over the dis­puted Diaoyu Is­lands. But such over­lap­ping should not come as a sur­prise since most coun­tries — in­clud­ing Ja­pan — know that the is­lands are dis­puted ter­ri­to­ries claimed by both coun­tries.

Ja­pan has over­re­acted by de­mand­ing China re­tract the ADIZ, and led by right-wing Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe, the Ja­panese gov­ern­ment forced two Ja­panese air­lines, JAL and ANA, to re­verse their orig­i­nal in­ten­tion to file flight plans with the Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties, a move that shows it is will­ing to gam­ble with the lives of pas­sen­gers.

China’s for­eign min­istry said on Wed­nes­day, 55 air­lines from 19 coun­tries and three re­gions have re­ported their flight plans to China. There is no doubt that more air­lines will fol­low suit in or­der to re­duce the risk of any mis­un­der­stand­ing and mis­cal­cu­la­tion in the airspace. Fil­ing flight plans does no harm; it has only ben­e­fits.

Af­ter all, the an­nounce­ment of China’s ADIZ is not a dec­la­ra­tion of sov­er­eign airspace. So there re­ally should not be so much fuss about it. Ja­pan, the US and many other coun­tries pro­claimed theirs decades ago and some have ex­panded their zones over the years.

The ini­tial re­sponse in some coun­tries was so ex­ag­ger­ated you would think China was go­ing to shoot down any plane fly­ing into the ADIZ, some­thing that China has never said it would do, and, of course, has no in­ten­tion of do­ing.

It’s just like when US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama talked about not tak­ing any op­tion off the ta­ble in deal­ing with Iran, Syria and the Demo­cratic Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of Korea, no one should see it as US’ will­ing­ness to use nu­clear weapons against th­ese na­tions. But many peo­ple seem to har­bor such think­ing when ex­plain­ing China’s ADIZ an­nounce­ment.

The US is in a dilemma, be­ing caught be­tween Ja­pan, which it con­sid­ers a key ally and is ea­ger to re­as­sure, and China, whose re­la­tion­ship with the US is of­ten de­scribed as most con­se­quen­tial in the world.

Right af­ter China’s ADIZ an­nounce­ment, the US Sec­re­tary of De­fense, Chuck Hagel, de­scribed China’s move as “a desta­bi­liz­ing at­tempt to al­ter the sta­tus quo in the re­gion”.

How­ever, on Wed­nes­day, Hagel and other US of­fi­cials soft­ened their tone and started to say that China’s mis­take was not con­sult­ing with other coun­tries be­fore the an­nounce­ment.

The US con­tin­ues to say that it does not rec­og­nize China’s ADIZ and hopes China will not im­ple­ment it, but the US has ad­vised its in­ter­na­tional car­ri­ers to file their flight plans with the Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties.

US Vice-Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den also has tried to strike a bal­ance be­tween Ja­pan and China. He re­jected a joint state­ment with Ja­pan over the ADIZ and did not call on China to re­tract it. Bi­den has tried not to let his long­planned visit to Asia be hi­jacked by ADIZ.

All th­ese in­di­cate that the US has tried to be more rea­son­able af­ter its ini­tial re­sponse of dis­patch­ing bombers, some­thing that was bound to es­ca­late ten­sions.

The row over the ADIZ pro­vides both China and the US with an op­por­tu­nity to learn how to bet­ter man­age their dif­fer­ences, which will no doubt con­tinue to sur­face for a long time to come.

Bet­ter man­age­ment of the dif­fer­ences is the key in build­ing the pro­posed new type of re­la­tions be­tween ma­jor coun­tries. The au­thor, based in Wash­ing­ton, is deputy ed­i­tor of China Daily USA. chen­wei­hua@chi­nadai­

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