International Law Studies 2014
The Bull in the China Shop:
Raising Tensions in the Asia-Pacific Region
Raul (Pete) Pedrozo*
When you see a rattlesnake poised to strike,
you do not wait until he has struck before you crush him.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1941)**
ithin the span of six weeks, the People’s Republic of China (PRC)
took a series of illegal and provocative actions in the East and South China
Seas that raised eyebrows in capitals around the world and further contrib-
uted to the deteriorating security situation in the Asia-Pacific region. On
November 23, 2013, China unexpectedly declared an air defense identifica-
tion zone (ADIZ) over a large portion of the East China Sea that overlaps
portions of the South Korean and Japanese ADIZs. Both ADIZs have
been in existence since 1951.
1 Two weeks later, on December 5, 2013, a
* Professor Pedrozo (Captain, U.S. Navy, Ret.) currently ser ves in the International
Law Department at the U.S. Naval War College. Prior to his retirement from the U.S.
Navy, he served in a number of operational law billets, including Staff Jud ge Advocate,
U.S. Pacific Command, and Special Assistant to the Under Secretary of Defense for Poli-
cy. The views expressed in this article do not reflect the views of the U.S . Government,
the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or the U.S. Naval War College.
**President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Fireside Chat to the Nation, Sept. 11, 1941.
The Bull in the China Shop Vol. 90
People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) warship intentionally crossed the
bow of the USS Cowpens (CG-63) and came to a full stop, forcing the U.S.
warship to take evasive action to avoid a collision. The following month,
China began enforcing new regulations that purport to require foreign fish-
ing vessels to obtain prior approval from Chinese authorities to operate in
over 2 million square kilometers of ocean space in the South China Sea
over which Hainan Province asserts jurisdiction.
Each of these measures is designed to alter the status quo in the East
and South China Seas and bring China one step closer to achieving its “sa-
2 campaign to gain effective control over events in what it calls
the “Near Seas.” These acts also demonstrate Beijing’s long-standing dis-
tain for the post-war international system—a system it had no role in shap-
ing. In addition, they show a need to upset what China views as a Western-
dominated legal system in order to bolster its anti-access/area denial
(A2/AD) strategy,3 and to provide a firmer legal basis to challenge U.S.
military activities in and over its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Although the nations most directly affected by the new measures—
Japan, the Philippines, South Korea (ROK) and Vietnam—have strongly
condemned China’s provocative actions, reactions by the United States and
other regional States have been mixed. This paper examines the legality of
China’s recent endeavors to change the status quo through threats and in-
1. The zone includes t he airspace within the area enclosed by China’s outer limit of
the territorial sea and the following six points: 33º11’N (N orth Latitude) and 121º47’E
(East Longitude), 33º11’N and 125º00’E, 31º00’N and 128º20'E, 25º38’N and 125º00’E,
24º45’N and 123º00’E, 26º44’N and 120º58’E. Statement by the Government of the Peo-
ple's Republic of China on Establishing the East China Sea Air Defense Identification
Zone (Nov. 23, 2013), http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/china/2013-11/23/c_13291
1635.htm [hereinafter Chinese Government Statement on Identification].
2. China’s “salami-slicing” campaign “involves a steady progression of small actions,
none of which serves as a ca sus belli by itself, yet which over time lead cumulatively to a
strategic transformation in China’s favor.” Brahma Chellaney, China’s Salami-Slicing Strategy,
THE JAPAN TIMES (July 25, 2013), http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2013/07/25/
3. Adm. Jonathan Greener, P rojecting Power, Assuring Access, THE OF FICIAL BLOG OF
THE CHIEF OF NAVAL OPERATIONS (May 10, 2012) http://cno.navylive.dodlive.mil
/2012/05/10/projecting-power-assuring-access/ (“A goal of an A2AD strategy i s to make
others believe it can close off international airspace or waterways and that U.S. military
forces will not be able (or willi ng to pay the cost) to reopen those areas or come to t he aid
of our allies and partners. In peacetime, this gives the country with the A2AD weapons
leverage over their neighbors and reduces U.S. influence. In wartime, A2AD capabilities
can make U.S. power projection more difficult.”).
International Law Studies 2014
timidation. It concludes with recommendations of responses that the Unit-
ed States and other States can employ to resist China’s destabilizing activi-
ties in the region.
II. AIR DEFENSE IDENTIFICATION ZONES
According to the Ministry of National Defense (MND), China’s new
ADIZ over the East China Sea was established to protect PRC sovereignty
and territorial and airspace security, as well as maintain flying order.
aircraft entering the zone purportedly must comply with the Aircraft Identifi-
cation Rules and provide the following information:
1. Flight plan identification. Aircraft flying in the East China Sea Air
Defense Identification Zone should report the flight plans to the Ministry
of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China or the Civil Aviation
Administration of China.
2. Radio identification. Aircraft flying in the East China Sea Air Defense
Identification Zone must maintain the two-way radio communications,
and respond in a timely and accurate manner to the identification inquir-
ies from the administrative organ of the East China Sea Air Defense
Identification Zone or the unit authorized by the organ.
3. Transponder identification. Aircraft flying in the East China Sea Air
Defense Identification Zone, if equipped with the secondary radar tran-
sponder, should keep the transponder working throughout the entire
4. Logo identification. Aircraft flying in the East China Sea Air Defense
Identification Zone must clearly mark their nationalities and the logo of
their registration identification in accordance with related international
Additionally, aircraft operating in the ADIZ are required to follow the
instructions of the administrative organ of the zone—the PRC MND. Air-
craft that do not cooperate with the identification procedures or follow the
4. China Exclusive: Defense Ministry Spokesman R esponds to Air Defense Identification Zone
Questions, XINHUA NEWS AGENC Y (Nov. 23, 2013), http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/
china/2013-11/23/c_132912145.htm [hereinafter China Exclusive].
5. Announcement of the Aircraft Identification Rules for the East China Sea Air Defense Identifi-
cation Zone of the P.R.C., XINHUA NEWS AGENCY (Nov. 23, 2013), http://news.xinhuanet