China is the proverbial neighborhood bully, with a knack for making itself despised yet also seemingly unassailable. Beijing’s announcement of a new “air defense identification zone” over most of the East China Sea is perhaps the most brazen attempt yet to get the world to recognize it as the big player on the (Asian) block. As I write today in Politico, China has already fundamentally changed the idea of free aerial navigation, as almost all Asian nations have announced that their commercial aircraft will follow the new demands by China to identify themselves, reveal their flight plans, and give transponder and logo information. Just one day after the neighborhood bully’s threat to (in essence) shoot down anyone who doesn’t comply, the rest of Asia hands over their milk money while making faces behind his back.
Now I’m hearing from U.S. government sources that Washington is telling U.S. carriers to use their own judgment. In other words, the Obama administration is telling United, American, and the like that they’re on their own. Instead of telling Beijing to bugger off, and encouraging America’s major airlines to do the same, Washington is sitting and fanning itself while recovering from dizziness.
Clearly, a weak response by the Obama administration could make this the day the U.S. lost Asia. So, in order to forestall just such a sound of friends turning away from us in shame, the military flew two B-52s through the new air-control zone from Guam. Unfortunately, the U.S. announced it was a long-scheduled training mission, thereby taking much of the bite out of the apparently quick slap at China’s pretensions. The Obama administration has to realize that a one-off scheduled flight does not a policy make.
No, what is needed to keep America from looking like a paper tiger is an international version of a “Take Back Our Neighborhood” march. The U.S. should announce daily joint flights through China’s “defense” zone, with anyone who can join. Bring cargo planes, passenger jets, even biplanes, if you’ve got ’em. Wiggle your wings, do loops, it doesn’t matter. All the neighbors have to stop cowering in their houses and join arms singing “We Shall Overcome.” Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, India — basically anyone with an airplane, civilian or military, should join in.
And who should lead the march? A phalanx of U.S. Air Force F-22s. Dare China to demand information from a riled up crowd of soccer moms (soccer pilots?). Anything less will lead to endless nibbling around the edges; ambiguous “messages” coming out of D.C. and Tokyo and Seoul; and no real change in Beijing’s demands that everyone flying through one of the world’s busiest air corridors acknowledge China’s sufferance for their presence. It’s not too much to say that America’s future in Asia rests on organizing that community march. Should be something right up President Obama’s alley.