Cover: In Line or Out of Order?

In Line or Out of Order?

China's Approach to ADIZ in Theory and Practice

Published Nov 10, 2017

by Edmund J. Burke, Astrid Stuth Cevallos


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مقبول أم مرفوض؟ نهج الصين إزاء ترسيم الدفاع الجوي في النظرية والتطبيق

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Controversy has surrounded China's Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea (ECS). Questions about the zone's legitimacy, legality, ambiguity, implementation, and purpose have generated significant debate. U.S. observers appear particularly concerned about the implications for a potential ADIZ in the South China Sea (SCS). This report builds on existing reports and Chinese-language open sources to explore questions about the ECS ADIZ and evaluate the prospects for a possible SCS ADIZ. We assess the different situation and context facing Beijing in the SCS and argue that the calculus there does not necessarily suggest that the Chinese government will declare an SCS ADIZ. While Beijing's recent statements imply that it is keeping its options open, China's leaders are dealing from a stronger political and military position in the SCS because of their well-documented reclamation and construction of military facilities there. They have already used other tools, including deploying combat aircraft and air defense missiles, in the SCS that are arguably more effective in achieving their objectives.

Key Findings

  • China's inclusion of the Senkakus (Diaoyus) in its East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) certainly has not created new normative behaviors that favor China and its claim there.
  • Declaring an ADIZ (or more than one) in the South China Sea could arguably work against Chinese strategic goals there.
  • However, China could establish a South China Sea ADIZ after deciding that U.S. operations or diplomatic/political-military developments had reached a point that necessitated an additional response from Beijing.

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The research described in this report was prepared for the United States Air Force and conducted by the Strategy and Doctrine Program within RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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