Tuesday, November 26, 2013

• Australia - Europe's role: expresses concern over China air defence zone

Australia expresses concern over China air defence zone
by Karen Barlow - Tuesday, November 26, 2013

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A Japan Coast Guard boat and vessel sail past Uotsuri Island, one of the Senkaku islands.

China's ambassador to Australia has been called in to explain the Chinese Government's latest military move in the East China Sea. Beijing has claimed the right to take military action against aircraft that enter its newly-declared air defence identification zone. The area covers most of the East China Sea and the skies over a group of Japanese islands claimed by Beijing.

China says foreign aircraft must report a flight plan and respond to Chinese inquiries or it will take "defensive measures." Australia's Foreign minister Julie Bishop says the timing and the manner of China's announcement are unhelpful and won't contribute to regional stability. "Australia has made clear its opposition to any coercive or unilateral actions to change the status quo in the East China Sea," Ms Bishop said in a statement. The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade called in Chinese Ambassador Ma Zhaoxu on Monday to explain Beijing's intentions and hear the Australian Government's concerns.

War of words
Japan has protested China's move, warning of an escalation into the "unexpected" if Beijing enforced the rules. US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel says the measures are a "destabilizing attempt to alter the status quo in the region". Washington does not take a position on the sovereignty of the Senkaku islands. But it recognises that Japan has administrative control over them and is bound by treaty to defend Japan in the event of an armed conflict. Sino-Japanese relations have been strained for months because of the dispute over the tiny islands in the East China Sea.

China's Defence Ministry said on Monday it had lodged protests with the US and Japanese embassies in Beijing over the criticism from Washington and Tokyo of the zone. It also summoned Japan's ambassador, warning Tokyo to "stop (their) words and actions which create friction and harm regional stability", China's Foreign Ministry said. Meanwhile, Tokyo and Seoul summoned Chinese diplomats to protest. Asian and Western diplomats say the zone is a problem for Japan, the United States and other countries that may be wary of any acknowledgement of China's claims over the area.

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China has snubbed Japan by setting up its new 'air defense zone' near disputed islands in the East China Sea. The situation also affects the EU. What can Europe do?

Beijing recently announced the establishment of an "air defense identification zone," a new measure that could deepen the territorial dispute with Tokyo over an island chain in the East China Sea. Chinese fighter jets may now intercept Japanese aircraft flying over the disputed territory.

Japan has reacted angrily.
A senior Japanese foreign ministry official lodged a protest with the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo saying that Japan could "never accept the zone set up by China."
Similar air defense zones, set up by Japan, South Korea and Taiwan on the East China Sea, also exist. These zones overlap in several places.
Liu Jiangyong, professor of international relations at Tsinghua University, says that China is only catching up other countries in this area: "I am of the opinion that China has set up the air defense zone too late," the Chinese expert told DW.

Small islands, big consequences
The Senkaku islands have a total area of about seven square kilometers. The dispute is primarily about who has sovereignty over the islands. However, it's also about rich fishing grounds, mineral resources and access to key international sea lanes passing through the archipelago. The conflict is also fueled by rising nationalism on both sides. A study by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) states: "Mutual resentment limits the ability of both Chinese and the Japanese governments to make compromises to resolve the dispute over the island chain." Since there is no institutionalized system for dealing with maritime incidents, there is a big risk of the conflict escalating. And this would have global consequences.

Because of its security deal with Japan, the United States would have to intervene. US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel confirmed this: "We remain steadfast in our commitments to our allies and partners." It's difficult to measure the impact an escalation of the conflict might have on the world economy, as three of the world's largest economies -- the United States, China and Japan -- are involved in it. But "also German and European economic interests would be affected," according to a report published by the SWP. The report states that trade with East Asia accounted for more than a quarter of total EU trade in 2012. The EU would therefore have good reasons for defending its interests in the East China Sea.

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Europe as a mediator?
But the EU has followed a restrained approach. According to the SWP report, "the EU has restricted itself to calling on both sides to settle the dispute peacefully." However, the SWP experts believe the EU could do more, as it is not directly involved in the conflict, unlike the United States and East Asian countries. The institute, which also advises Germany's parliament and federal government suggests: "For these reasons, it is important for the EU to act preemptively. This requires that the Union intensifies its political ties with East Asia." A strategy for East Asia must be drafted in the interest of the EU, the document adds. Arbitration could first take place on a low level, starting with, for instance, scientists, former political decision-makers, members of civil society or between government officials and non-official representatives. The SWP report ends with the following sentence: "This way, the EU could make a name for itself as an independent player in the region -- between the USA and China."

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Skepticism about EU's role
Edward Schwark, Asia expert at the London-based Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) agrees that there's a lot at stake for the EU. But Schwark is skeptical about a potential European involvement. "There are already too many players involved in the dispute in the East China Sea. I don't see what the EU will be able to contribute. Furthermore, it will be difficult to justify such a move vis-a-vis the states in the region, particularly China."

Schwark explains that Beijing has always insisted on bilateral negotiations and pronounced itself against international solutions. The expert therefore believes that "the EU would cause more problems than it would solve." Instead, he argues, the EU should speak out in favor of freedom of navigation and against unilateral attacks on the sovereignty of any nation.

China’s Airspace Claim Inflames Ties to South Korea, Too
by CHOE SANG-HUN - Wednesday, November 27, 2013

South Korea’s foreign minister warned on Wednesday that China’s recent attempt to police the sky over a vast area in the East China Sea was worsening tensions in a region already strained by territorial disputes.

China’s so-called air defense identification zone covered not only a group of Japanese islands but also a submerged rock that both China and South Korea want to control. The dispute over the submerged rock has never been as fierce as China’s dispute over the islands with Japan, but the new air patrol zone drew strong protests from South Korea, threatening to heighten tensions with Beijing. Seoul said it would not recognize the Chinese zone and would maintain its jurisdictional right to waters around the Ieodo rock. “The issue of the air defense identification zone is making the already difficult regional situations even more difficult to deal with,” Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se of South Korea said during a defense forum in Seoul on Wednesday.

“We see competition and conflict in the region deepening,” he said. “Things can take a dramatic turn for the worse if territorial conflicts and historical issues are merged with nationalism.” Mr. Yun’s comment came a day after two long-range American B-52 bombers flew through the contested airspace, a move seen as a warning by Washington that it would defy what it considered China’s provocative attempt to expand control over airspace in the region. In recent years, tensions over territorial disputes have grown in the region, a reflection of how contesting claims were never settled satisfactorily at the end of World War II in 1945.

Recently, such conflicts tended to keep South Korea drifting further away from Japan as Seoul appeared to be cozying up more to Beijing. Seoul and Tokyo, two close American allies, have locked horns over a separate set of islands and over Japan’s treatment of Korean sex slaves for its army during World War II.
South Korea and China recently together angered Tokyo by agreeing to build a monument in China for a Korean nationalist hero who assassinated a former Japanese prime minister in 1909. But China’s declaration of the expanded air control zone highlighted a potentially volatile dispute between China and South Korea, since it covered Ieodo, a submerged reef south of Jeju, an island off the south coast of South Korea. Ieodo, which South Korea says it effectively controls, is believed to be surrounded by natural gas and minerals deposits.

Despite fierce protests from environmentalists, South Korea is building a $970 million naval base in Jeju, a home for 20 warships, including submarines, that the navy says will protect shipping lanes in the East China Sea for South Korea’s oil-dependent, export-driven economy as well as enabling it to respond quickly to any dispute with China over the rock. Under international maritime law, countries cannot claim a submerged rock as territory but can claim the right to control and use waters and natural resources around it. Both China and South Korea claim such rights over the reef. Currently, the Korea Hydrographic and Oceanographic Administration manages a research station built on the rock. “The issue over Ieodo is not a territorial one but a matter of the exclusive economic zone, as it is not an island but a submerged rock,” Cho Tai-young, a spokesman for the South Korean Foreign Ministry, said on Wednesday.