When Political Gamesmanship And Real Life Collide, Aviation Edition

There’s an ongoing dispute that you probably haven’t heard about, thousands of miles away from the US.  It appears to be related to a small set of uninhabited islands off the coast of Japan and China.  The Japanese call them the Senkaku islands and the Chinese refer to them as the Diaoyu.  The islands have been under Japanese control for quite some time now, after the US handed control back to them back in the 1970s.

The Chinese were made last year when the Japanese formally purchased the islands from the family that claimed ownership to them.  And, last week, apparently China decided to take some action.  They have now claimed a much larger Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) than they used to, and the new ADIZ includes the Senkaku islands.  Obviously, the Japanese objected.

The US is duty-bound to defend the Senkaku’s as part of a treaty, so we upped the game even more by flying a couple B-52 bombers through the new China ADIZ to see what would happen.  Nothing major did, but at the time I commented to my wife that the escalations without any clear definition of policy were dangerous, in that the governments of China and the US were essentially asking a few random pilots to make sure they didn’t do something to make things worse.  Not exactly the most solid strategy.

The expected reaction from China was that they started flying more fighter jets in their new ADIZ.  So, the US government did the smart thing and notified all US airlines that they strongly advised each airline properly notify China if their flight plan brought them into China’s new ADIZ.

Interestingly, Japan has told their airlines to stop notifying the Chinese when they enter the ADIZ.

It’s an interesting insight the power struggle between China and the US.  While not at war-time threat levels, the situation is escalated to a higher point than in recent years.  It seems unlikely China will back down on its own, but it remains to be seen how the conflict will ultimately resolve.


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