THE BLOG
12/19/2013 02:37 pm ET Updated Feb 18, 2014

Setting and Enforcing International Norms for Airspace

On November 23, China announced it was dramatically and unilaterally establishing a new "air defense identification zone" (ADIZ) to encompass international open airspace over the East China Sea, overlapping with the ADIZs of Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, and covering the disputed Senkaku Islands that are administered by Japan, but also claimed by China and Taiwan. China also announced requirements that all aircraft comply with new rules to notify them if flying in China's air space and threatened that armed forces will respond in cases of non-compliance.

The net impact of this expansion was to take a heavily trafficked commercial air corridor, and effectively declare that any air travel through this corridor would need to get Chinese permission first, otherwise China would be justified utilizing its air defense if unauthorized aircraft was discovered in its airspace. While it is unlikely that passenger air travel will actually be threatened, most commercial airlines, including American, South Korean, and Japanese carriers, now face the problem of whether to submit to China's unjustified rules and threats. And that's where the problem begins.

China's unilateral moves continue a disturbing trend in their policy that includes expansion of maritime law enforcement and military presence near disputed areas throughout the South and East China Sea. This is exacerbating a chain of events that threaten to escalate tensions throughout the region, particularly among China, Japan, and South Korea.

Recently, South Korea announced it has expanded its own ADIZ, and it further overlaps with China's and Japan's claimed air space. The problem with all of this posturing is that it now dramatically increases the risk of an accidental military clash as aircraft from various countries patrol the overlapping airspace. And that is where the United States needs to forcefully take a stand on a sustained, strategic basis.

Vice President Biden recently visited Japan, South Korea, and China, and the ADIZ dispute was a major point of discussion. As the State Department has indicated, we will closely support our allies and move to keep all lines of communication open. And while communication is nice, the United States and international community must forcefully and jointly indicate that these unilateral moves by China are unacceptable and that if there are territorial or maritime disputes, China must use diplomatic, peaceful means to address disputes without threats, coercion, or force. Diplomatic means could include senior-level talks, binding codes of conduct, confidence building measures, and legal mechanisms. An example is the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement (MMCA) that the U.S. Defense Department signed with China's military in 1998 to arrange meetings to discuss maritime and air safety that could be used as a mechanism to develop crisis-management or rules of engagement.

As a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, I have requested that our Committee begin exploring what actions Congress can take to send a message in support of keeping important maritime and airspace routes open.

The time for proactive and strategic engagement, especially before China's next move like more ADIZs for the South China Sea of Yellow Sea, is now. Given the increasing trade between nations on the Pacific Rim, and current negotiations around the Trans Pacific Partnership, the timeliness of establishing stated norms and accepted territorial borders is paramount. Given the importance of trade and transport in this region, the United States must extend and enforce open trade and travel routes.

I am happy to say that we have not recognized China's new ADIZ. Immediately after China's announcement, the Secretary of State criticized the move as an attempt to change the status quo, an escalatory action, and a threat. We flew two long range B-52 bombers into China's air space on a previously-planned, routine, unarmed training mission without notifying China.

And in a statement to demonstrate the importance of open international air travel, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) confirmed that while Santa Claus does not file flight plans, regardless of the fact, he too would most likely ignore China's posturing.

Given that Christmas is almost upon us, now is the time to keep all routes open and stop the posturing lest Santa Claus deliver a lump of coal to China.