China may soon announce an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), with the framework for such move already set up, a geopolitics expert said on Thursday.
According to Richard Javad Heydarian, a lecturer on international affairs and political science at the De La Salle University, China’s massive reclamation on Fiery Cross Reef (called Kagitingan Reef by the Philippines and Yongshu by China) will prove to be the catalyst in the region for Beijing to announce an ADIZ.
Surveillance pictures published recently showed the reef having an airstrip and seaport, both of which can be used for civilian and military activities.
China took control of the reef in the late for civilian and military activities.
China took control of the reef in the late 1980s, but it was not until last year that it started the construction of ports there.
“China has yet to announce any form of ADIZ, but the skeleton of ADIZ has already been put in place. When you have a network of airstrips and more and more deployment of paramilitary and conventional military patrols, you are effectively going to allow China to control not only the maritime areas of contested waters but also the air over these contested features,” Heydarian said in an interview with the ABS-CBN News Channel.
China’s foreign ministry last year dismissed reports that they were considering establishing an ADIZ over the South China Sea, shortly after it announced the creation of a zone in the East China Sea. Beijing then said countries in Southeast Asia were not considered as threats.
The Journal of Transport Security explained that an ADIZ is the airspace over land or water in which the identification, location and control of civilian aircraft is required in the interest of a country’s national security.
“The ADIZ extends beyond a country’s airspace to give the country more time to respond to foreign and possibly hostile aircraft,” the Journal said.
The authority to establish an ADIZ is not given by any international treaty nor prohibited by international law and is not regulated by any international body, it added.
China in November 2013 announced the establishment of an air defense zone in the East China Sea, a move that drew flak from neighboring countries such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines, and as well as from the European Union and the United States.
China’s ADIZ in the East China Sea covers the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands (called as Diaoyu Islands by Beijing) and Socotra Rock, which is claimed by South Korea.
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had criticized the manner in which China acted unilaterally and without consultation when it declared the ADIZ.
Tokyo called the attention of the International Civil Aviation Organization on the issue, a move that gained support from Australia, Britain and the United States.
Heydarian, however, said an ADIZ over the Fiery Cross would allow China to “drive out other countries out of other features that they control.”
Fiery Cross, he added, is of particular interest to China because this will act as the “command and control” of their activities on the Spratly Islands.
“The trend down the road as China builds military garrisons (is that) it will be in a position to even choke off the supply lines of other countries who occupy other features.”
The reclamation on the Fiery Cross Reef is more than just China expanding its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and its continental shelf, but a possible announcement of an ADIZ will effectively control flights over that area.
“Down the road, it’s possible that we may have an ADIZ,” Heydarian warned.
He accused China of “altering the status quo” when two years ago, claimant-countries were even talking about shelving their disputes over territories in the South China Sea.
But the challenge now is that China’s expansion include military garrisons that could house a 3-kilometer-long airstrip for aircraft, jet fighters and surveillance ships.
There may even be missile battery systems and surveillance, Heydarian also warned.
“It’s very clear that despite all our [the Philippines]best efforts, we are not slowing down China’s activities. If anything, China has accelerated its construction activities and their expansion of their paramilitary patrols,” he said.
Territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea have overtaken all existing security issues, National Security Adviser Cesar Garcia, said also on Thursday.
“It is now very clear that our territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea have in fact overtaken all security issues in our hierarchy of national security issues,” Garcia told a Senate panel holding an inquiry into the sea rows.
He said China’s massive reclamation activities are the top security concern the country is facing and it is very imperative for the Armed Forces to transition from its domestic security focus to external defense.
China, based on a presentation by the Maritime and Ocean Affairs Office of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), has seven reclamation operations in seven contested reefs and islets at the Kalayaan Group of Islands Spratlys).
DFA Assistant Secretary Benito Valeriano said of the seven reefs being reclaimed by China, three are within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Philippines namely the Mabini Reef (Johnson), Chigua Reef (Hughes) and Panganiban Reef (Mischief).
All three reefs were located less than 200 nautical miles from Palawan, which is more than 500 nautical miles from China.
Meanwhile, four other reefs that are also being reclaimed by China but are not within the EEZ include Calderon (Cuarteron), Kagitingan (Fiery Cross), Zamora (Subi) and Gaven.