China eyeing air defense zone over South China Sea – report

MANILA, Philippines – China is eyeing an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the disputed South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) and is just waiting for the right time to announce it, according to a report Wednesday, June 1.

Citing sources close to the People's Liberation Army as well as a report from the Kanwa Defense Review, the South China Morning Post reported that China is preparing for an ADIZ in the regional hotspot, based on the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of its 7 artificial islands in the Spratlys, as well as of Woody Island in the Paracel Islands.

The trigger for an announcement would be if the United States continues making "provocative moves" that would challenge China in the region, the SCMP said, citing the unnamed source.

Establishing an ADIZ over the South China Sea would mean China will exercise monitoring and control of civilian aircraft movement in the area.

The possible declaration would also be a U-turn from China's stance in 2014, when the country's foreign ministry said that Beijing doesn't need an ADIZ in the region.

Back then, the foreign ministry said that it has "yet to feel any air security threat from the ASEAN countries and is optimistic about its relations with the neighboring countries and the general situation in the South China Sea region."

The area is seen to overlap with the EEZs of other maritime claimants in the region: Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

'Political decision'

This would be China's second ADIZ. On November 2013, China announced an ADIZ over the East China Sea, an area covering territories that are being disputed by several countries in the region, including South Korea and Japan. 

The United States has conducted several "freedom of navigation" operations where it pointedly ignored China's claims of sovereign exclusion zones around the islands by closely flying or sailing past.

The timing would be a "political decision" as well, the SCMP reported, also citing the Kanwa Defense Review.

The report comes as defense officials, including those from China and the US, are preparing to meet in Singapore for the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual gathering on regional security matters.

Aside from the South China Sea, delegates are expected to focus on the growing threat of Islamic terrorism in the region and North Korea's nuclear program.

Regional neighbors are fretting over what they see as China's expansionism as it rushes to exert sovereignty over the waterway, a major global shipping route believed to be home to large oil and gas reserves.

China is using dredgers and other tools to convert low-lying ocean features and sandy blips into military bases.

A Pentagon report this month said China has added more than 3,200 acres (1,300 hectares) of land to the 7 features it occupies in the Spratly Islands. – With reports from Agence France-Presse and KD Suarez / Rappler.com