Friday, 27 December 2013


The extension of China’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) recently generated a lot of not so subtle butthurt in regional geopolitics here in Asia, so it is prudent to examine this particular issue within a broader context.

First of all, putting aside all hysteria about the imminent start of World War 3, the ADIZ has nothing to do with land grabbing (or in this case, air space grabbing), at least not in theory. It is what its name implies, an area of space where foreign aircraft “identify” themselves to the local neighborhood watch. The ADIZ can be thought of as an early warning system or even a deterrent against a “malfunctioning” drone. In the world of realpolitik this can perhaps be described as the geopolitical version of being George Zimmerman, asking a young, hooded gentlemen with skittles to identify themselves and their intent for passing through the neighborhood.

Furthermore, it’s worth mentioning that China’s ADIZ is by no means unique. Japan, the U.S., South Korea and most major countries in the world have their own respective Air Defense Identification Zones. Therefore, what really scares the neighbors is not the actual ADIZ itself, but China’s assertiveness in challenging the status quo in this part of the world, and the potential for further escalation. Whether or not the PRC is a threat to long term regional security here in Asia is still up for debate, but what is certain is that not everyone in the neighborhood is comfortable with the way the PRC is flexing its muscles.

After all, China’s desire to achieve full spectrum parity with both Japan and the United States is hardly a secret. The whole world has known of China’s ambitions for quite some time, not to mention its pivotal role in Jim O’Neill’s so called “BRIC” markets. So, for the PRC to start making noise in the military and geopolitical arena could hardly be described as a surprise. It is simply the inevitable becoming reality.

Furthermore, China’s territorial disputes with her neighbors work as proxy conflicts which use small and relatively bilateral issues to slowly rebalance the consensus in Asia in China’s favor through sheer power projection. The real power of China’s new ADIZ, along with other Chinese territorial claims in the region, is that they challenge the American-centered consensus in the region, shattering the various modus vivendis which have existed in Asia for decades. In other words, it’s all about not losing face, a zero sum game to see if the PRC has what it takes to challenge American power. In addition to its explicitly stated purpose, the ADIZ can also be seen as China’s attempt to extend her sphere of influence, which, of course, is what most Asian countries are really worried about, because even though spheres of influence are a fact of geopolitics, they bring up too many memories of conquest and colonialism.

So regardless of all the defiance directed against the PRC’s Air Defense Identification Zone, the stakes are more than just a bunch of rocks and a few underwater petrochemicals. What it’s really about is creating a new geopolitical reality that involves a little more Chinese prestige, at the expense of Japan and America.

On the other hand, it’s also worth mentioning that the PRC’s strategy could turn against them. Even now, there are concerns that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, along with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, may revise or reinterpret the Japanese constitution in order to allow Japan to expand its military forces. Furthermore, following the recent bicameral talks between Abe and ASEAN leaders, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that China’s recent actions are making a lot of people nervous, and nervous people tend to reach for their guns.

So are we headed for World War 3? Well, that depends on how you define war. If we are to define war as an explicit conflict between two opposing states or groups of states then it’s not likely that China will start a war with the US and her allies. On the other hand, if we are to use 4th Generation Warfare as our frame of reference, then it is possible to say that there already exists a state of war here in Asia. Whether it’s the imminent remilitarization of Japan, the Obama administration’s pledge to increase the American military presence in Asia, or the PLA and its latest toys, all these developments make sense if we are to use the emerging 21st Century perspectives on war.

For now, however, it’s simply too early to tell how the 4th Generation Warfare paradigm will affect the situation here in Asia. The pieces are still moving, and we haven’t yet reached that point where the players are forced to draw the line in the sand (although a lot of them seem enjoying drawing lines on water).

However, the ADIZ, along with the gradual military escalation in the region, are more or less white noise designed to hide the real stakes in the conflict in Asia, which is the emergence of a Post-American power structure in Asia. For the optimists, the outcome will be the so-called Asian century. For the pessimists, we are headed for the Happening. Both are missing the point, I think, because what is happening in Asia now is somewhat similar to what is happening in Europe, with the rise of right-wing populism, and Russia’s continued defiance. There are cracks in Pax Americana, and the questions that we should be asking ourselves should not be about the probability of war, but how the world as we know it is changing in very unpredictable ways.


  1. Of course I don't know what happened behind the scenes, but whatever is the truth, I hope you guys and Richard can iron out your differences and join forces again.

  2. STILL> Thee was No Notification? In any event I'll continue supporting AltR but consider Radix a fleeting 'experiment'.'

  3. Radix, the bastard lovechild of Richard Spencer and Rachel Maddow!