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China’s Air Defence Identification Zone: Building Security through Lawfare

Authors: Matthias Vanhullebusch and Wei Shen

The China Review, Vol. 16, No. 1 (February 2016), 121–150


China’s establishment of its Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) is yet another manifestation on the strenuous development of regional security in East Asia. China by virtue of its so-called lawfare has instrumentalized international air law, the law of the sea, and law on the use force to reinforce its comprehensive security doctrine both on the military as well as economic front. Accordingly, China has advanced is sovereign interests through each of these branches of international law when extending its domestic laws in airspace above its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), affirming its sovereignty over the disputed islands and being prepared to respond to imminent threats. Conversely, opponents of the zone have equally exploited those normative frameworks to defend their geopolitical and strategic interests in East Asia under the veil of the communitarian freedoms of overflight.


The stalemate between China and its neighbors of settling outstanding territorial disputes and maritime claims has driven the parties toward conflict and military readiness in the eventuality of potential outbreaks of violence. Such strategic thinking no longer limits itself to military power only; it also employs lawfare to advance one’s national and economic interests—thus in line with China’s new government agenda to rule by law domestically and globally alike. China’s establishment of its ADIZ anticipates toward that end. Accordingly, it argues in the margins of international law and more specifically through its branches of air law, law of the sea, and law on the use of force to challenge the dominant perspective of the United States that conversely defends its stance on the extraterritorial application of its domestic law governing the airspace beyond its territory, the freedom of overflight, and the right of anticipatory self-defense.

The divergent interpretation and application of international norms that authorize the establishment and regulate the operationalization of an ADIZ reflect a growing asymmetry between regional and global powers. On the one hand, such divide between China, its neighbors and the United States can further jeopardize collective security beyond East Asia and can risk further eroding such a normative framework. On the other hand, the indeterminacy of the rule can give enough flexibility to the parties to strike a balance between their sovereign interests and thus to move away from the debate on legality/illegality of one’s actions and claims and focus on confidence- and relationship-building measures instead. China’s increased military capacity however will continue to impact on how China perceives its own interests but also its ability to defend those interests within its Seas.

Download the full paper at https://maritimearchives.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/chinas-air-defence-identification-zone-building-security-through-lawfare.pdf

Related articles:

Commentaries and Analyses on Freedom of Navigation and Freedom of Aviation (ADIZ): https://seasresearch.wordpress.com/category/events-and-analyses/fon-foa-adiz/

Official Statements on Freedom of Navigation and Freedom of Aviation (ADIZ) https://seasresearch.wordpress.com/category/official-positions-and-legal-instruments/fon-foaadiz/


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