Beijing's air defence zone aimed at making Tokyo negotiate, analysts say
Beijing is just trying to force Tokyo back to negotiating table to settle the Diaoyu dispute, analysts say, with military clashes unlikely
Zhang Hong in Beijing and Minnie Chan
China hopes to force Japan back to the negotiating table over disputed islands in the East China Sea by establishing an air defence identification zone (ADIZ) there, analysts say.
Beijing's declaration of the zone last week attracted criticism - and warplanes - from Japan and its ally the United States, and drew the ire of South Korea and Taiwan, whose own air defence zones partly overlap Beijing's.
But analysts said Beijing's primary goal remained pressing Tokyo to forsake its stance over the Diaoyu Islands, which Japan calls the Senkakus.
"The biggest concern is the overlapping of Chinese and Japanese air zones, including the airspace above the disputed Diaoyu Islands … that implies the risk of a clash between both sides' fighter jets increasing," said Professor Liu Jiangyong , an expert on Sino-Japanese relations at Tsinghua University.
"To reduce such risk, it has became more pressing for both sides to sit down and negotiate the dispute over the Diaoyus," Liu said. "That has been all along what China asked for: Japan has to acknowledge there is a sovereignty dispute."
Xu Guangyu , a retired People's Liberation Army general, agreed.
"The eventual purpose is to force Japan to sit down with China, to avoid miscalculation and escalation," Xu said.
Japanese news agency Kyodo has reported that Tang Jiaxuan , a former state councillor overseeing foreign policy, put forward the proposal during a meeting with Japanese politicians in Beijing on Wednesday.
"Similar to the established bilateral crisis-management mechanism by Chinese and Japanese defence departments at sea, management for aviation activities is necessary, and this issue should be discussed," Tang reportedly told his guests.
But the proposal apparently was not well received in Tokyo.
On Friday, Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera said his country "cannot accept any negotiation request from the Chinese side over how the ADIZ should be operated".
"Under the Chinese air defence identification zone, the Senkaku Islands become Chinese territory, so Japan cannot accept it," the Financial Times quoted Onodera as saying.
Professor Ni Lexiong , a Shanghai-based military expert, said Beijing might also be aware that if the air zone works in settling the situation with Japan, it could send a signal to claimants in its other territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
"President Xi Jinping may have found the country now in a somewhat similar situation to what it once faced during Mao Zedong's days - coupling domestics politics with formidable foreign threats," Ni said. "He may have to resort to Mao's strongman approach."
Analysts said the chance of a real military clash between China and other parties remained limited. Peng Tinghua, a freelance military blogger, said: "Other countries like South Korea and the US have also reacted fiercely on [ADIZ]. But China is not targeting them. Forget a direct confrontation with the US."
Liu of Tsinghua University said: "In its protests, Japan is acting like a kid losing his temper."