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Domestic motivation and the case of the east china sea ADIZ: diversion or mobilization?

THE SINO-JAPANESE DISPUTE OVER THE DIAOYU/SENKAKU ISLANDS HAS intensified since 2012. In November 2013, China's Ministry of Defense declared an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea (ECS). An ADIZ refers to "a publicly defined area extending beyond national territory in which unidentified aircraft are liable to be interrogated and, if necessary, intercepted for identification before they cross into sovereign airspace" (Welch 2013). While many states have set up their own ADIZs since 1948, the ECS ADIZ was considered a destabilizing move by East Asian states as well as other stakeholders because it includes the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands and it applies "generally to aircraft flying in the ECS ADIZ, regardless of whether the aircraft intends to enter the PRC's airspace" (Rinehart and Bart 2015, 7). Since its announcement, many have sought to understand the motivation behind the ECS ADIZ. Some analysts have looked at it from a strategic perspective, while others have seen it as a result of Tokyo's provocative decision to nationalize the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands in 2012 in the context of the hawkish foreign policy orientation of the Chinese president, Xi Jinping. However, all of these explanations overlook the possibility that domestic factors also played an important role in deciding to implement an ADIZ. Noting this shortcoming, some contributors to a special issue of Asian Perspective on the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands conflict presented analyses that took domestic factors into account. For instance, Togo (2014) and Hirano (2014) discussed how Japan's domestic politics have become entangled with international factors and how this has contributed to the dispute. Moore (2014, 238) looked at the role of "face politics" at the domestic and international levels in both China and Japan. Moore's argument is especially illuminating in that he establishes a two-level analytic framework to examine the interaction of ideational factors at different levels, in and across both countries. In his conclusion, he suggests a face-to-face solution for the dispute, which would allow "both sides [to] come away with enough face to proclaim victory to their constituents" (238).

However, although ideational factors are powerful in explaining the structure of conflict, they are insufficient to explain its timing. In this article, we argue that the issue cannot be fully understood without looking into the decisionmakers' political motivation. To offer another plausible explanation that may fill this gap, we consider two distinct theoretical frameworks: the diversionary foreign policy and the mobilization models. The first model is based on the idea that state leaders utilize external conflict to divert domestic attention away from their political, economic, or social problems in order to reconsolidate their power position. The second model deals with how state leaders manipulate international crises to mobilize patriotic sentiment among their citizens, making these citizens more willing to accept a radical policy agenda requiring the sacrifice of their individual rights. Both models focus on the linkage between domestic politics and foreign policy, but each has different theoretical and empirical implications. We assess which mechanism offers a better explanation of China's ADIZ decision by carefully reviewing available empirical evidence.

Diversionary Incentive vs. Mobilization Effort: A Brief Theoretical Review

Scholars of Chinese foreign policy have made considerable efforts to understand the impact of domestic factors on China's decisions to take belligerent action. For example, Chen (1987) and Zhang (2010) argue that an important driver behind China's decision to fight a brief war with Vietnam in 1979 was Deng Xiaoping's domestic power struggle and his agenda of economic reform. In a broader examination of China's use of military force, Scobell (2003) also demonstrates that China's strategic culture, including the historical legacy of the "cult of defense," the evolving civil-military culture, and military organizational culture, can be used to explain continuity and change in China's decisions to use military force abroad. As these authors have demonstrated the importance of political incentives behind the leadership's foreign policy considerations, we attempt to ascertain whether China's ECS ADIZ decision was driven by similar motives. To do so we take into account two variants of international relations theory addressing the issue of internal-external linkage: the diversionary theory of war and the mobilization theory.

Also known as the scapegoat theory (Levy 1989, 259), the diversionary theory of foreign policy argues that state leaders caught up in domestic political storms are most likely to engage in foreign disputes, as such disputes will divert their people's attention away from problems such as economic recession, or help them deal with the prospect of losing an election or declining approval ratings (James and Oneal 1991; Ostrom and Job 1986; Russett 1990; Smith 1996). Traditional studies on diversion focus on the manipulation of war for domestic purposes, but recently scholars have begun to study the use of lower-level conflicts "such as threats to use force, shows of force, and uses of force short of war" for diversionary purposes (Morgan and Bickers 1992, 32). Another theoretical framework that links domestic politics to foreign policy decisions is Christensen's mobilization model. In his seminal work on Sino-US conflict during the Cold War, Christensen (1996) posits that state leaders deliberately provoke external conflict with a foreign enemy to mobilize domestic support for the policy initiatives that are critical for states' strategic needs and even survival. For instance, in his case study on the 1958 Quemoy Crisis, he finds that Mao Zedong's decision to shell the offshore islands in the Taiwan Strait was driven by his need to mobilize the Chinese people to support his Great Leap Forward policy. The policy required people to "surrender their remaining small, private plots and household property" (Christensen 1996, 213) and to "work harder for less remuneration" (205) in order to speed up the modernization of the state's heavy industry and the military. Mao believed that the Great Leap Forward was necessary to protect China from Soviet exploitation and US attack, but he also understood that such a mass mobilization would not be easy. Therefore, he took advantage of the stalemate in the Taiwan Strait to "replicate the wartime conditions of the anti-Japanese and civil war period, during which common people sacrificed greatly for the communist cause without much material reward" (Christensen 1996, 205).

While the diversionary foreign policy model and the mobilization model consider different mechanisms linking state leaders' domestic incentives to their foreign policies, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish diversionary from mobilization behaviors. However, by carefully comparing these two theoretical arguments, we propose four sets of crucial distinctions that can help differentiate a diversionary behavior from a mobilization one. First, in a mobilization maneuver, state leaders do not act merely to prop up the state for personal political reasons. Rather, they are trying to "build a consensus around preferred national security programs ... as responses to the international environment" (Christensen 1996, 15). To be more specific, state leaders' mobilization behavior is motivated by their strategic calculation concerning the long-term domestic and external political agenda. To administer such a well-calculated two-level game requires a stable power position--as demonstrated by Christensen (1996) in the cases of Truman in 1947 and Mao in 1958. The diversionary model, in contrast, focuses on state leaders' need to rally their supporters by manipulating external crises at times when they are facing critical challenges to their power. A classic example is the 1982 Falklands War, in which the Argentine junta attempted to extricate itself from a legitimacy crisis by rallying its citizens against the British (Lebow 1983). Focusing on power crises, studies have found that state leaders are more likely to initiate external conflict during a power transition--that is, in election years for democracies (Ostrom and Job 1986; Russett 1990) and during leadership changes in nondemocracies (Goldstein 2012). This literature points out a fundamental difference between the mobilization and diversionary hypotheses: timing. A mobilization-motivated external crisis would be more likely to occur after a power transition; a diversion-driven one would be more likely to emerge before a successful power transition.

Second, drawing upon the first proposition, in order to devise a mobilization tactic, state leaders need to be in stable control of the government body. In other words, although state leaders capable of mobilization may be facing high political hurdles, they are "otherwise politically secure" (Christensen 1996, 13). For instance, Truman had an above-average job approval rating in 1947 when he delivered the famous Truman Doctrine speech to mobilize domestic support for his massive foreign aid programs. (1) Similarly, Mao enjoyed a dominant power position in 1958, having overcome "domestic opposition to radical planning within the party and the society at large" (Christensen 1996, 237). These differences in domestic circumstances suggest that whether state leaders have stable control over the government is an important factor in distinguishing between the two theoretical models.

Third, as a diversionary motivation differs from a mobilization one, the policy objectives of the two behaviors are also distinct. State leaders engaging in mobilization are trying to implement a national strategy they deem necessary for their countries' interests, such as Truman's effort to continue providing financial aid to Western Europe, Greece, and Turkey, and Mao's attempt to safeguard national security by quickly boosting China's industrial development. In contrast, a diversionary provocation is concerned only with the political survival of state leaders. This can be seen in the fluctuations in US policy toward the Soviet Union through successive presidential election cycles (Nincic 1990) and the shifts in Chinese nationalism across time (Zhao 2013). Therefore, another criterion that could help distinguish a mobilization behavior from a diversionary one is whether state leaders are pursuing a longer-term proactive policy agenda or are simply attempting to ward off an imminent power threat.

Fourth, as the purpose of a diversionary crisis is to achieve a resurgence of power, the external confrontation should be a short-lived, and ideally a one-off, incident. This is because the external conflict must be "sufficiently limited to control the costs to the regime" (Hazelwood 1975, 224). In contrast, when mobilizing domestic support for a national grand strategy, state leaders are more likely to need the external conflict to be prolonged or recurrent. Examples of this are Truman's anticommunist campaign and his hawkish policy toward China throughout his tenure, and Mao's anti-American campaign (Christensen 1996, 243-244). To summarize, after comparing the two literatures, we suggest that four factors--the timing of the policy, state leaders' degree of control over the government, the objective of the policy, and the duration of the external confrontation--can be used to assess whether a conflict behavior is driven by a diversionary or mobilization motivation.

The diversionary and mobilization models provide two analytic frameworks for understanding the linkage between domestic politics and foreign policy behavior. But before looking into the domestic context, it is important to first discuss why it is insufficient to analyze China's ECS ADIZ policy from the perspective of external strategic interaction alone. Here we consider two distinct external strategic hypotheses, one proactive and one reactive. The proactive hypothesis assumes that the ECS ADIZ was the result of the Chinese leadership's pragmatic calculation that an aggressive military policy was necessary to deter Japan from further violating China's sovereignty in the disputed area. The reactive hypothesis posits that the policy was actually a response to a recent provocation by Japan. In the following sections, we will first discuss how these two externally driven models are insufficient. Then we will offer our domestic-level analysis, trying to understand how internal politics played a role in the policy decision by considering whether the influence of the Chinese leadership was decisive in the policy outcome and what political incentives drove its decision.

China's ECS ADIZ as Proactive Deterrence Against Japan

As structural explanations have been broadly applied as aids to understanding interstate conflict, the first reaction among observers of East Asian security matters was to find a strategic military intention behind the declaration of the ECS ADIZ--that it was designed to deter Japan from making further provocative moves regarding the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. Four sets of proactive explanations are commonly discussed.

At the most superficial level, China's ECS ADIZ seems to be part of a prolonged escalation of the Sino-Japanese confrontation that started with Japan's "nationalization" of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. The declaration of the ADIZ was designed to threaten or pick a fight with Japan, or to provoke it into belligerence (Economist 2013b, 2013c; Kelly 2013). A second proactive deterrence explanation argues that the ECS ADIZ was part of China's "anti-access/area denial" (A2/AD) strategy or a "counter-intervention operation" (Cheng 2013; Minnick 2013; Osawa 2013; Song 2013). A third proactive deterrence explanation argues that China initiated the ECS ADIZ in order to attain a superior strategic position in the event of any future conflict over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. For example, Cohen (2013) argues that China is prepared to risk looking like an aggressor in order to gain the upper hand in preparation for future crises. The fourth such interpretation can be seen in another Global Times article arguing that the ECS ADIZ should be seen as a move to justify China's global presence. It explains that if the United States refuses to observe or pay due respect to the ADIZ rules, China's future air presence worldwide will only appear more legitimate and its moral standing will be enhanced (Chao 2013).

All these arguments assume that the declaration of the ADIZ was an actively defensive gesture as part of a proactive strategy. However, they do not sufficiently account for the Chinese government's behavior prior to and after the policy announcement. First, if the move was really meant to escalate tension, the Chinese government or leadership would have prepared a well-organized military and diplomatic strategy. But the evident lack of coordination between the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), (2) and the inconsistency of official statements regarding how to implement the ADIZ rules (Rinehart and Bart 2015, 10), suggest that this is unlikely to be the primary explanation. Second, on October 25, 2013, about one month before the declaration of the ECS ADIZ, Xi Jinping delivered a speech at a "periphery diplomatic work meeting" on the theme of "furthering friendly relations with neighboring countries." Xi emphasized that "the basic tenet of diplomacy with neighbors is to treat them as friends and partners, to make them feel safe and to help them develop" (Mu 2013). These are not the words of a leader about to provoke a major confrontation with Japan. Third, the Chinese air force has not intensified its "necessary defensive measures" or made major changes to the way it reacts to incursions by foreign military aircraft since the declaration of the ECS ADIZ (Sevastopulo 2014; see also analyses in Bronk 2013; Japan Times 2014a, 2014b; Welch 2013). This also proves that China has not engaged in aggressive deterrence in the disputed area. In sum, the lack of interagency coordination and consistency in related policy behavior indicates that it is unlikely that the ECS ADIZ was part of an escalation of tension aimed at Japan and the United States.

China's ECS ADIZ as Passive Defense Against Japan

As the proactive deterrence argument cannot fully explain the ECS ADIZ, we will now consider the passive defense explanation. There are three possible passive defense arguments under discussion in the literature. The most extreme of the passive military explanations sees the ECS ADIZ as part of China's buffer-building strategy (Perrett 2013). From this perspective, the seemingly aggressive gesture was only a reflection of China's feelings of insecurity. Another explanation is a psychological one: as a newly emerged big power, China feels it necessary to have or to pretend to have whatever the existing big powers already have. For example, Alastair Iain Johnston, an IR scholar, makes the following observation on Robert Kelly's (2013) blog: "There is an element of mimicry--Japan has an ADIZ, so we can too.... The Chinese appear to be engaged in establishing symmetry in Chinese and Japanese administrative presence around the Senkaku/Diaoyu." The Taiwanese scholar, Lin Chong-Pin, has made a similar observation, but he interprets the ADIZ declaration as a move against the United States as a global power. (3) Su Xiaohui, a specialist at the government-affiliated China Institute of International Studies, suggests yet a third passive military explanation. X. Su (2013) argues that the ECS ADIZ actually reflects the new Chinese leadership's "bottom-line thinking," which is an important tool of decisionmaking. There are two elements to this strategy: one is maximizing the effect of every action in response to escalation by Japan and the United States, and the other is preparing for the worst and drawing a red line for Japan.

All these explanations treat the ECS ADIZ as a passive response to moves or threats made by others or as being designed to ensure that China maintains its equality with other powers. These arguments have some significance, but not much. Although it is understandable that China would wish to gain strategic parity with Japan, an ADIZ cannot really deter foreign military aircraft from entering the zone before an armed confrontation takes place. There have been frequent unauthorized incursions into the ADIZ since it was declared, so it is hard to see any defensive or buffer effect in the move. The fact that the Chinese air force did nothing to escalate tension after the declaration of the ECS ADIZ suggests that China did not seriously intend the zone to act as a buffer (Barnes and Page 2013). An investigation into ADIZ-related reports in the two authoritative Chinese newspapers, People s Daily and Liberation Army Daily, leads us to question the defense-based argument still further. On November 24, 2013, the day after the ECS ADIZ announcement, the Liberation Army Daily published an article under the pen name Xie Fayuan (2013) arguing that the ECS ADIZ was a "legitimate and lawful move to safeguard national sovereignty and security." This argument was immediately echoed in a November 25 report of an interview with the chief justice of the PLA Military Court for the Navy, Fu Xiaodong (Lu 2013). At the same time, however, two other articles under the pen name Jun Baoyan adopted a tougher stance (Jun 2013a, 2013b). One of them explicitly warned that "individual states should not underestimate the determination of the Chinese people and the Chinese military to safeguard national sovereignty and regional stability" (Jun 2013a). A People's Daily news article under the pen name Zhong Sheng (2013) also argued that it is reasonable for the ECS ADIZ to cover the Diaoyu/Senkaku area and emphasized China's resolve and preparedness to take forceful action to protect its core national interests. These different lines of discourse from authoritative Chinese news sources demonstrate that the ECS ADIZ is far from being a purely defensive mechanism. Rather, the fact that the rhetoric targets not only Japan but also the United States displays a provocative tone without any substantive action and thus simultaneously casts doubt on the deterrent and defensive explanations. Therefore, in the following section, we turn to the two domestic analytical frameworks discussed earlier in an effort to find other possible rationales behind the ECS ADIZ.

Rational Calculation or Bureaucratic Politics?

When seeking an explanation for China's declaration of the ECS ADIZ, another important question to ask is whether it was driven by rational calculation or the result of bureaucratic competition. According to Allison (1969), a rational actor explanation focuses on the state's value-maximization behavior. The leadership's preferences, therefore, play a key role in shaping its policy choices (694-695). A bureaucratic explanation attributes a policy outcome to political bargaining among different "players positioned hierarchically within the government" (707). Drawing on these two models, an important debate over China's ECS ADIZ centers on whether it was the result of a deliberate choice by state leadership or the result of the PLA's quest for more resources. Unfortunately, given the impossibility of understanding the precise details of China's policymaking process or gaining credible information about its internal politics, it is impossible to completely rule out either explanation (Grant 2013). Our objective in this article, therefore, is to understand, if indeed rational choice by the Chinese leadership did play a key role in the ECS ADIZ declaration, what the leadership's actual motivation was. According to a report in the Hong Kong-based magazine Asian Weekly, although the ECS ADIZ was proposed by the PLA a long time ago, Xi Jinping gave it his final approval only four months before its official announcement (Japan Times 2013; cited in Grant 2013). Considering that the ECS ADIZ declaration was "clearly calculated, planned at a high level and carefully timed" (Cohen 2013), and that Xi has maintained firm control of the PLA, it is highly likely that he was fully aware of and in control of the ECS ADIZ policy. This is coincident with the fact that China's foreign policy orientation has shifted toward a more active, if not assertive, pursuit of achievement and "great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation" since Xi came to power in 2012 (Chang Liao 2016, 830). Although we do not exclude the possibility that there have been rifts in or bargaining among different branches of the bureaucracy, these reports and research results show that we should not neglect Xi's role. Indeed, as suggested by some scholars, Xi's decision was actually key to the realization of the ECS ADIZ (Rinehart and Bart 2015, 9-10). (4)

Domestic Incentive: A Tactic of Diversion or Mobilization?

Does the diversionary theory or mobilization theory better explain Xi Jinping's ECS ADIZ policy? Before answering this question, it is important to make a distinction between these two analytical frameworks. Drawing upon the existing literature, we propose that while both theories emphasize a causal linkage between domestic politics and foreign policy choices, they can be distinguished on the basis of four sets of criteria: the timing of the foreign policy, the defensive or proactive motivation of the leadership, the leadership's control over the government and military, and the duration of the external confrontation. Therefore, to identify either a diversionary or mobilization move, it is necessary to assess whether the state leader (1) initiated the provocative foreign policy before or after his or her rise to power; (2) has weak or strong control over the government; (3) is defensively responding to an imminent domestic power challenge or proactively challenging the domestic status quo; (4) is only intending to provoke a one-off external incident in order to ensure a resurgence of power or has adopted a recurrent provocative foreign policy to serve both domestic and external objectives. Table 1 sets out a comparison of these four criteria. Below we present our evaluation.

Criterion 1: Timing of the Provocative Foreign Policy Decision

One important assumption of the diversionary theory is that highly competitive electoral campaigns for state leadership tend to encourage incumbent leaders to boost their support among voters by initiating confrontational foreign policies (Ostrom and Job 1986). Although there are no competitive elections for state leaders in authoritarian regimes, competition and division among political factions could also generate a serious crisis during a power transition. Conversely, as the domestic mobilization model focuses on the strategic calculations a leader might make in order to carry through a tough and risky domestic agenda, it is more likely to be applied after a successful power transition.

The ECS ADIZ was declared about one year after Xi Jinping came to power. The fact that the policy was announced right after the Third Plenum of the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP's) Eighteenth Central Committee, during which a major reform plan was promulgated, seems to indicate that Xi was trying to rally domestic support for the ambitious, radical, and challenging general reforms he had called for at the plenum (Cohen 2013; Economist 2013a; Kelly 2013; Lin 2014; Perrett 2013). Looking at the history of the People's Republic of China (PRC), we are reminded of Deng Xiaoping's declaration of war on Vietnam shortly after the Third Plenum of the Eleventh Central Committee. In both cases, the leaders were determined to push forward a vast, challenging reform agenda and thus needed extra political capital to guard against potential political repercussions. At the time of the ADIZ declaration, Xi, like Deng in 1979, was pretty much in charge, so it seems that, rather than being a defensive tactic employed to ensure his succession to power, the policy was a proactive one designed to bolster the new leader's personal power and facilitate the execution of his own political agenda--a point we will discuss further in the following two sections.

Criterion 2: Weak vs. Firm Control over the Military

The second criterion to distinguish between diversion and mobilization is the degree of state leaders' control over the government. In the case of the ECS ADIZ, it is especially important to examine the political leader's power position vis-a-vis the military in order to assess whether Xi Jinping was in charge of the policy or was forced into it by hawkish PLA generals. (5) In comparison to his two predecessors, Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin, Xi clearly has much stronger authority over the military. Earlier in his career, Xi served as secretary to Geng Biao, the general secretary of the Central Military Commission. Xi's father, Xi Zhongxun, was a member of the revolutionary old guard who enjoyed widespread respect within the party. Xi thus has more political capital and comes of purer revolutionary stock than either Hu or Jiang. He was already commenting on the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands issue when, as vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, he received the then US secretary of defense Leon Panetta. In the meeting, Xi warned Japan "not to use false words and deeds to hurt the integrity of China's sovereignty and territory," and also advised the United States "to be careful of its words and deeds, and not to interfere in the sovereignty dispute over the Diaoyu Islands, and not to do anything to complicate or intensify the contradiction on the matter" (Liu 2012).

After Xi formally assumed power in November 2012, the Chinese military began exerting pressure on Japan by sending ships and aircraft to the area around the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. On December 13, 2012, a noncivilian Chinese aircraft entered the area for the first time. Then on January 10, 2013, around ten Chinese military planes, including J-7 and J-10 fighter jets, flew near the islands. Never before had such a large force of PLA Air Force (PLAAF) planes entered the area. The situation further escalated when about forty Chinese military planes flew in the vicinity of Diaoyu/Senkaku on April 23, forcing the Japanese Self-Defense Air Force to scramble in response. Tensions rose again in late August, when a China Marine Surveillance Y-12 entered the vicinity of the islands. Then, during the week leading up to the anniversary of the islands' "nationalization," two PLAAF H-6 bombers and a PLAAF drone were intercepted by Japan. On November 1617, a PLAAF three-engine reconnaissance jet airliner TU-154 was detected 150 kilometers north of Diaoyu/Senkaku. A week later, the ECS ADIZ was declared. This series of events shows that Xi was much tougher than his predecessor, dispatching a series of aircraft to the vicinity of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands.

Putting together Xi's words and deeds on the Sino-Japanese dispute prior to the declaration of the ECS ADIZ, we can see that he consistently took a tough stance on the issue and was not afraid to dispatch military aircraft into the disputed area. This is in contrast to the bureaucratic analysis's expectation, in which we are more likely to see state leaders forced to accept the bureaucrats' demands unwillingly or passively. Judging from his consistent hard-line position on the East China Sea issue and his family background, Xi can hardly be regarded as a weak leader vis-a-vis the military. It is more likely that from the very beginning, he has been confident in his ability to command and control the military. The launching of a large-scale military reform in China since 2014 further demonstrates Xi's powerful control over the PLA (e.g., see Economist 2016).

Criterion 3: Defensive vs. Proactive Incentive

Whether the political intention behind it was defensive or proactive is a critical criterion to distinguish a diversionary behavior from a mobilization one. Although proving intention is always a difficult task, we may be able to achieve this by closely observing the background and process of state leaders' policy behavior. There are four notable domestic considerations that drove Xi Jinping to declare the ECS ADIZ: fighting corruption, implementing political and economic reform, maintaining social stability, and accommodating nationalist sentiment. These objectives are highly intertwined with one another, and the tremendous costs to achieve them eventually drove Xi to seek greater assurance of long-term internal stability by accumulating as much political capital as possible during his first years in office.

The first important item on Xi's political agenda is anticorruption, which resulted in a series of political battles between competing factions within the party and the military, such as the arrest of Bo Xilai and Zhou Yongkang, both former members of the Politburo Standing Committee, for charges of corruption and abuses of power (Grammaticas 2012; H. Xie 2013). Xi's anticorruption campaign was aimed at not only Zhou and his associates, but also the former party general secretary Jiang Zemin. For instance, General Gu Junshan, the deputy political commissar of the PLA General Logistics Department, was arrested and charged with corruption and misuse of power in April 2014 (BBC 2014). It has also been reported that Xi launched a thoroughgoing anticorruption campaign within the PLA after he came to power, leading to the indictment on March 15, 2014, of Xu Caihou, who had served as political commissar of the Jinan Military Region and then vice chairman of the Central Military Commission (Chen 2014). Xu was widely known to be a prominent protege of Jiang Zemin in the military. Xi's battle against corruption within the higher echelons of the party and the military is a politically risky maneuver, as noted by Lin Chong-Pin and Alexander C. C. Huang, both experienced observers of the PLA and the CCP working in Taiwan. (6) Against this backdrop, Japanese scholar Sato (2013) suggests that the ECS ADIZ could be a preemptive move designed to defend the leadership against domestic political opponents.

In fact, fighting corruption is not the only challenging task on Xi's agenda. He must also carry out the comprehensive and complex political and economic reforms unveiled at the Third Plenum of the Eighteenth Party Central Committee, which would inevitably face resistance or even a backlash from vested interests within the government and the party. For instance, for the reforms to be successful, the leadership will have to reduce the scale of corruption and rent-seeking among the "princeling" families within the party. But targeting the princelings would be a daunting political challenge for Xi, since they constitute one of his main power bases.

Moreover, Xi's anticorruption and reform agenda is further complicated by a stable yet strained domestic environment. Fueled by growing economic disparities, there has been an increase in tension between the state and society marked by a proliferation of popular protests. These challenges from below require the party-state to keep up the repression without instigating further social unrest. Aware of this problem, the Xi Jinping leadership has already announced a list of topics that universities must steer clear of in their teaching (the "seven don't mentions"), tightened control over the Internet, and ruthlessly cracked down on liberal intellectuals and social activists. However, repression alone is not sufficient to secure the leadership's legitimacy. A more comprehensive strategy has to be considered.

The fourth domestic political context is the steadily rising Chinese nationalist sentiment in recent years, as demonstrated by the large-scale anti-Japanese demonstrations that took place before the Eighteenth Party Congress in August and September 2012. It is interesting to note that in many of the protests, there were demonstrators waving banners carrying leftist slogans or slogans in support of Bo Xilai, which has led some overseas media organizations to suspect Zhou Yongkang and his "political-legal system" of pulling the strings (R. Su 2012). Such phenomena demonstrate that the Chinese people's nationalistic sentiment can be utilized by Xi's political opponents.

These four aspects of the domestic context are crucial to Xi's policy calculus. If we look at the sequence of events set out in Table 2, we can draw a number of conclusions. First, after the Eighteenth Party Congress, Xi was working very hard to make proactive or preemptive moves in all of the four contexts mentioned above. Second, he initiated various campaigns to enhance his popular appeal and rally support within the party and the military. Third, he moved aggressively against his elite opponents, including Bo Xilai and Zhou Yongkang, and against other potential sources of opposition within society, such as liberal intellectuals. Fourth, his moves against external targets, such as the declaration of the ECS ADIZ, were of low intensity, and they were carried out after the Third Plenum of the Eighteenth CCP Central Committee. This accords with the views expressed in some of the literature mentioned above, concerning a new leader's need to accumulate support from both the ruling elite and the public to carry out his political agenda. Although we cannot be sure that this is the sole explanation for the declaration of the ECS ADIZ, it is definitely an obvious contributing factor.

Criterion 4: One-Off Crisis vs. Recurrent Confrontations

The last criterion we propose for assessing the ECS ADIZ is whether the external crisis deliberately generated by state leaders is a one-off and most likely a short-term crisis, or whether it is part of a series of confrontational incidents. As the main purpose of a diversionary tactic is power resurgence, the designated policy will most likely end as soon as the domestic crisis is over. In contrast, since mobilization efforts are aiming at long-term political goals, one would expect to see a sequence of events in which external confrontations alternate with radical policy agenda items. This is exactly the essence of a two-level game: each game has its own purpose while also serving to fulfill a goal at the other level. By examining the sequence of above events, we find that the domestic and external strategies adopted by Xi Jinping enhanced each other. Considering such combination of external strategic and domestic political objectives, we find that the mobilization framework offers a more plausible explanation for Xi's policy choices regarding the East China Sea disputes. Xi's mobilization attempt can be further demonstrated by his promotion of the Chinese Dream as the state's development goal not long after he officially took power. Although the definition of the Chinese Dream is multifaceted and fluid, it is clear that it contains at least two elements: economic prosperity and a return to national glory. To satisfy, and at the same time continue to encourage, the rising tide of nationalism in China, Xi adopted a hard-line position on the East China Sea dispute to accumulate enough political capital to preempt possible domestic storms resulting from the bold domestic agenda: anticorruption.

The anticorruption campaign began to escalate in late 2013, as a number of senior PLA generals came under investigation. Shortly before this escalation, China's Ministry of National Defense (MND) announced the ECS ADIZ. The timing of this announcement suggests that the policy was both externally and internally oriented--it instigated public nationalist sentiment while at the same time it enhanced Xi's prestige among the PLA. From late 2012 to mid-2014, a number of anti-Japanese incidents alternated with anticorruption events. Xi's hawkish and nationalistic handling of territorial disputes in the region has helped consolidate his support in the PLA, which has in turn given him more room for political maneuver at home.

In fact, the dispute with Japan is not the only confrontation China has engaged in since Xi took power. Bilateral tensions have also been escalating in the South China Sea since 2012. In December 2012, for instance, Vietnam claimed that two Chinese fishing boats had cut the cables of a Vietnamese energy exploration vessel operating in the South China Sea (Page 2012). These two countries clashed again in 2014 when the Chinese attempted to build an oil rig in the disputed waters, leading to widespread violent anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam. In the same year, China began its land reclamation work in the South China Sea. This assertive behavior actually runs counter to the good-neighborliness policy Beijing has been advertising and thus raises worries among ASEAN members (Lam 2015, 220-221). At the same time, Xi's domestic political agenda continues to expand--from anticorruption to expansive military reform. These simultaneous political developments at home and abroad offer a clear picture of Xi's two-level game strategy: to mobilize nationalist support for his domestic agenda by initiating a series of low-level conflicts close to home.

In sum, Xi's strategy of putting his external and internal agenda on the same chess board is risky, yet potentially fruitful. Xi's goal of accelerating reform of China's economic structure and fighting corruption requires the country to sacrifice its high rate of economic growth, while it also threatens powerful vested interests. This explains Xi's need to enhance his social control and build up his political capital in order to prevent the emergence of challenges to his power. Nationalistic sentiment offers a convenient and effective instrument for achieving the latter goal, and an ongoing dispute with Japan serves to keep such nationalistic sentiment alive. The recurrence of anti-Japan provocation since 2012, along with the above evaluations, indicates that China's ECS ADIZ policy is mostly driven by the current leader's desire to play a two-level game against his enemies both at home and abroad.

Conclusion: The ECS ADIZ as a Case of Mobilization

In this article, we make an analytical contribution by proposing four criteria for distinguishing whether a state leader is driven to undertake a provocative foreign policy action by the need to create a diversion or to mobilize support. These criteria are the timing of the policy, the degree of power state leaders enjoy, policy objectives, and the time span of the conflict. Our empirical analysis finds that the ECS ADIZ satisfies all four criteria for the mobilization explanation and thus should not be seen as an isolated, unexpected incident in the Sino-Japanese dispute. Rather, it is part of a sequence of external provocations against Japan that were designed to instigate nationalist emotion among the general public as well as intellectuals that would increase Xi Jinping's political capital. This, in turn, will give Xi more room to carry out his domestic political agenda and to address existing domestic problems in the ways he deems necessary. This finding has significant implications for the analysis and management of the East China Sea conflict. It suggests that the tension in the East China Sea is very likely to be prolonged. A conflict is more likely to be short-lived if it is driven by diversionary incentives--once the pressure is dispelled, the motivation for further conflict is removed. However, if the aggressor's move is motivated by the need to mobilize domestic support for an ongoing political agenda, then one should expect to see recurrent confrontations initiated by the aggressor. As the sovereignty disputes in the South China Sea offer Xi another opportunity for domestic mobilization, rising instability in both the East and South China Sea regions might not be easily addressed by bilateral or multilateral negotiations. To prevent existing regional tension from escalating into military crises, a conflict management mechanism should be considered by all stakeholders and especially by China and the United States.


Szu-chien Hsu is associate research fellow at the Institute of Political Science at Academia Sinica. He also serves as the director of the Center for Contemporary China at the National Tsinghua University. His research in recent years focuses on the interaction between the state and society under the authoritarian regime in China. His recent publications include book chapters such as "A Tale of Two Party States: Comparing Authoritarianism Across the Taiwan Strait," in Guoguang Wu and Helen Landsdowne, eds. (forthcoming), and "Whither the Local Autonomy Under the 'China Model'? The Political Economy of China's 2008 Stimulus" (coauthored with Hans Tung), in T. K. Leng and Yushan Wu, eds. (2014); and a journal article in China Review (forthcoming). He can be reached at Hsiao-Chi Hsu is assistant professor of the Graduate Institute of Political Science, National Taiwan Normal University. She specializes in international relations, Chinese politics, and international political economy. Her works have appeared in Issues and Studies and Monthly Review of Philosophy and Culture. She is corresponding author and can be reached at

(1.) Data collected from

(2.) Interview with Japanese scholar who wishes to remain anonymous, 2014. Swaine makes a similar argument by pointing out that "according to knowledgeable Chinese sources with whom the author has spoken, it is nonetheless possible that military authorities did not thoroughly consult with officials in the diplomatic and foreign policy apparatus before issuing the statement." See Swaine (2014).

(3.) Interview with Lin Chong-Pin, April 15, 2014, New Taipei.

(4.) Having said that, it is important to make clear that rational and bureaucratic explanations of the ECS ADIZ are not mutually exclusive. In fact, we do not exclude the possibility that the PLA still played a certain role in shaping Xi's ADIZ decision. The PLA might even have urged a more cautious use of the ADIZ by arguing against strictly enforcing it. Nonetheless, as Xi's role in the ADIZ proclamation cannot be ignored, understanding the possible rationales behind his decision is important for both empirical and research purposes.

(5.) This criterion can tell not only the difference between the diversionary and mobilization models, but also the difference between bureaucratic and rational models. If the decision is made with a rational model, the decision is mainly made by the leadership. Only under a bureaucratic model can the leadership be forced to swallow a decision already reached by the bureaucrats.

(6.) Interview with both authors, April 7, 2014, Taipei.


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Table 1 Criteria for Distinguishing Between the Diversionary and
Mobilization Theories

                          Diversionary Motivation

Criterion 1 : Timing of   Before power
  policy                    consolidation
Criterion 2: Control of   Weak control
Criterion 3: Objective    Defensive/short-term goal
  of policy
Criterion 4: Time span    One-off and short-lived

                          Mobilization Motivation

Criterion 1 : Timing of   After power consolidation
Criterion 2: Control of   Firm control
Criterion 3: Objective    Proactive/long-term goal
  of policy
Criterion 4: Time span    Recurrent and prolonged

Table 2 The Context of the ECS ADIZ Declaration

Time               Domestic incident         Domestic context

Feb. 6, 2012       Wang Lijun seeks refuge   Power struggle
                   in the US consulate in

Feb. 2012          Gu Junshan removed from   Anticorruption drive in
                   office                    PLA/power struggle

Apr. 2012          Bo Xilai stripped of      Power struggle
                   party posts and

Aug.-Sept. 2012    Anti-Japanese protests    Nationalism/power
                   (Zhou Yongkang fighting   struggle/social tension

Nov. 8-14, 2012    Eighteenth National       Power struggle
                   Congress of the
                   Communist Party of

Nov. 13, 2012

Dec. 2012

Jan. 9, 2013

Jan. 10, 2013

Jan. 15, 2013

Apr. 19, 2013      "Mass line campaign"      Anticorruption

Apr. 23, 2013

May 13, 2013       "Seven don't mentions"    Social tension

Aug. 27, 2013

Sept. 8-11, 2013

Sept. 22, 2013     Bo Xilai sentenced        Anticorruption/power

Nov. 9-12, 2013    Third Plenum of           Comprehensive reform
                   Eighteenth Central

Nov. 16-17, 2013

Nov. 23, 2013

Dec. 10, 2013      Anticorruption campaign   Anticorruption in PLA/
                   in PLA                    power struggle

Dec. 28, 2013      Xi displays normality
                   by visiting a steamed
                   bun shop

Dec. 30, 2013      Zhou Yongkang detained    Anticorruption in PLA/
                                             power struggle

Jan. 2014

Mar. 15, 2014      Xu Caihou detained        Anticorruption in PLA/
                                             power struggle

Mar. 31, 2014      Gu Junshan arrested       Anticorruption in PLA/
                                             power struggle

Apr. 3, 2014       Eighteen top military
                   commanders pledge
                   support for Xi Jinping

May 2014

Jul. 31, 2014      Guo Boxung arrested       Anticorruption in PLA/
                                             power struggle


Time               External incidents

Feb. 6, 2012

Feb. 2012

Apr. 2012          Scarborough Shoal dispute

Aug.-Sept. 2012

Nov. 8-14, 2012

Nov. 13, 2012      Y-12 scout plane,
                   several vessels
                   approach the
                   Diaoyu/Senkaku islands

Dec. 2012          Chinese fishing boats
                   cut cables of Vietnam's
                   energy exploration
                   vessels; China builds
                   Meiji Village on
                   Mischief Reef

Jan. 9, 2013       PLAAF Y-8
                   reconnaissance plane
                   and two J-10 fighter
                   jets approach the
                   Diaoyu/ Senkaku islands

Jan. 10, 2013      Ten Chinese military
                   planes, including J-7
                   and J-10 fighter jets,
                   fly near the Diaoyu/
                   Senkaku islands

Jan. 15, 2013      Y-12 scout plane
                   approaches the Diaoyu/
                   Senkaku islands

Apr. 19, 2013

Apr. 23, 2013      Forty Chinese military
                   planes fly in vicinity
                   of the islands;
                   Japanese Self-Defense
                   Air Force scrambled in

May 13, 2013

Aug. 27, 2013      China Marine
                   Surveillance Y-12
                   appears near the

Sept. 8-11, 2013   PLAAF drone and H-6
                   bomber appear near the
                   Diaoyu/Senkaku islands

Sept. 22, 2013

Nov. 9-12, 2013

Nov. 16-17, 2013   PLAAF TU-154 detected
                   150 km north of the
                   Diaoyu/ Senkaku islands

Nov. 23, 2013      Declaration of ADIZ

Dec. 10, 2013

Dec. 28, 2013

Dec. 30, 2013

Jan. 2014          China starts
                   construction on Johnson
                   South Reef

Mar. 15, 2014

Mar. 31, 2014

Apr. 3, 2014

May 2014           Conflicts in South
                   China Sea heats up

Jul. 31, 2014

2015               China accelerated its
                   land reclamation in the
                   South China Sea
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Title Annotation:SECURITY IN EAST ASIA; air defense identification zone
Author:Hsu, Szu-Chien; Hsu, Hsiao-CHI
Publication:Asian Perspective
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Jul 1, 2017
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