United States Sends B 52s Over the Senkakus Islands to Assert Freedom of the Skies

COMMENTARY | The United States has dismissed China’s attempt to grab the air space over the disputed Senkakus Islands in the most unsubtle way possible, by sending a pair of B 52s over it without a by-your-leave, according to the New York Times.

The question arises, what comes next? China has not actually said what it intends to do to enforce its “air defense zone.” Thus it would seem to reserve the right to take violent action against any aircraft it likes at any time it likes. Clearly China has managed to increase tensions concerning the East China Sea island chain without actually doing anything.

This means that a one off over flight is likely to be insufficient so long as China does not explicitly back down, which it cannot do without losing face. That suggests that the United States and Japan will need to assert the freedom of over flight by setting up regular combat air patrols over the Senkakus Islands with a clear message to the Chinese that any attempt at interference will be met by deadly force.

China’s next move will be likely to attempt to extract some sort of concessions as the price for not enforcing its so-called “air defense zone.” Any agreement along those lines cannot include any thought that such a move was legitimate or respecting China’s claims to the islands, said to be sitting on top of rich oil and mineral deposits.

The United States is said to be conducting a “pivot to the Pacific” in recognition of new threats to peace and freedom posed by China and North Korea. This cannot be an empty phrase without some action taken when China attempts to behave as an imperial power by making unilateral moves concerning disputed territory. This means that the United States, Japan, and other friendly powers in the region are going to have to band together to contain China. Welcome to Cold War 2.0. That last one turned out successfully. Let’s see if the new one can have a similar outcome.

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