US ‘provocations’ may force China to declare air defense zone in S. China Sea – report

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Beijing is reportedly planning to launch an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in the South China Sea, the timing of which will depend on US “provocations.” Billions of dollars of trade passes annually through the area, which is subject to rival claims.

A source close to China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) told the South China Morning Post daily that security conditions in the region, namely the US military presence, would define the timing of the ADIZ declaration.

“If the US military keeps making provocative moves to challenge China’s sovereignty in the region, it will give Beijing a good opportunity to declare an ADIZ in the South China Sea,” the source told the newspaper.

The country's Defense Ministry told the South China Morning Post in a written statement that it was “the right of a sovereign state” to designate an ADIZ.

“Regarding when to declare such a zone, it will depend on whether China is facing security threats from the air, and what the level of the air safety threat is,” the ministry wrote.

In November 2013, Beijing set up an ADIZ in the East China Sea, causing an immediate backlash from Tokyo, Seoul and Washington. It covered the Diaoyu Islands, which Tokyo controls and calls the Senkakus.

Tensions have run high between Washington and Beijing over a reclamation project in the South China Sea, where China has built artificial islands. Beijing has various territorial disputes in the area – which is rich in deposits of natural resources – with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

To bolster its claim over the disputed territory, Beijing has been rapidly setting up defense installations in the area. The US Navy is actively opposing the Chinese initiative, deploying additional warships to the disputed zone and conducting maneuvers near the Chinese artificial islands. It has also flown over them, using the “freedom of navigation” principle as justification.

Beijing has called the US involvement in the dispute the “greatest” threat to the region.

“We urge them to stop stirring up a storm in a teacup and stop sowing seeds of discord so as to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea, which conforms to the common interests of all parties,” Yang Yujun, spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense (MND) said at a briefing, China Military Online reported. 

Last month Beijing asked the US to stop its surveillance activities near China after two of its fighter jets carried out what the Pentagon labeled an "unsafe" intercept of a US military reconnaissance aircraft over the South China Sea.

The incident added fuel to the fire in the already tense relations between the two countries.

“What needs to be pointed out is that the US always likes to distort facts and draw media attention to the distance between the military aircraft of the two sides. But in essence, the root cause for security hazards and potential accidents in the air and at sea between China and the US is the long term, large-scale and frequent close-in reconnaissance activities against China by the US military vessels and aircraft,” a Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman said.