US says China ‘acting professionally’ in air defence zone

07-Feb-2014 Intellasia | Financial Times | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Chinese fighter jets have not dramatically changed their behaviour near the disputed Senkaku Islands since Beijing created an air defence zone over the East China Sea, according to the top US commander in the Pacific.

Admiral Samuel Locklear, head of US Pacific Command, said the Chinese air force had continued to engage the US and Japanese in a professional way since the creation of the air defence identification zone in November.

“We haven’t seen a significant change in those interactions since the reported establishment of the defence zone by the Chinese,” Adm Locklear said on Wednesday during a visit to Japan. “The good news is that military forces are acting professionally as we interact in these areas.”

The US, Japan, South Korea, and other countries with a stake in the Pacific, criticised the announcement of the ADIZ in November, which came amid a period of high tensions in both the South China Sea and East China Sea.


Few experts question China’s right to create an ADIZ, which is a kind of early-warning mechanism. But many observers, including former heads of US Pacific Command, said it raised the potential for accidental confrontation in the region.

While Adm Locklear said there had not been any dramatic change to the way Chinese fighters operate in the area, he reiterated US concerns about the zone.

“We don’t recognise it and we believe it was an unnecessary action by the Chinese to try to change the status quo,” he said. “Any attempt by any party to change the status quo is unacceptable and leads to insecurity.”

The area around the Japanese-controlled Senkaku – which China claim and call the Diaoyu – has become one of the most dangerous flashpoints in the world since Japan bought some of the uninhabited islets from their private owners in late 2012.

Japan defended the move as an effort to pre-empt a separate bid by Shintaro Ishihara, then rightwing governor of Tokyo, to buy the islands. But the move incensed China, sparking an increase in the number of Chinese ships and aircraft that have entered waters or airspace near the islands over the past 17 months.

The Chinese ADIZ has also created some friction between the US and Japan. During a high-profile visit to Asia in December, US vice-president Joe Biden criticised the Chinese move, but refrained from calling on Beijing to rescind the zone, as Japan had done.

Asked whether China was trying to drive a wedge between the US and Japan, Adm Locklear replied: “I think you should ask the Chinese that question. It would be a very difficult challenge with this particular alliance.”

But he added that while the US was critical of certain Chinese actions, there were some positive signs that the US and Chinese militaries were improving relations. Adm Locklear said China had agreed to take part in naval exercises in Hawaii this summer that will involve more than 20 countries.

“We have to be focused on the security environment of some of these individual issues, but we have to keep track of the bigger picture,” Adm Locklear said. “The bigger picture is that we in the long run want China, the Chinese military, to be participants in a peaceful security environment with the rest of their neighbours as well as with the US.”

Aside from the Senkaku issue, China is engaged in several territorial disputes over the South China Sea with its neighbours, particularly the Philippines. Manila has filed an arbitration claim at the UN over the Scarborough Shoal, a contested reef.

In an interview with the New York Times, Benigno Aquino, president of the Philippines, urged other countries to give his nation more support. He compared tensions with China to the situation in Europe in 1938 when western powers did not support Czechoslovakia in the face of the threat from Hitler.

Asked to respond to Aquino’s comments, Adm Locklear said the US supported the use of the rule of law and international treaties to solve territorial issues.

“The fact that the Filipinos have decided to go at this peacefully in a legal setting must be applauded and must be supported,” he said.



Category: China

Print This Post

Comments are closed.