China Turns Up the Heat on Taiwan With New Air Routes

This article first appeared on the American Enterprise Institute site.

As the Trump administration has maintained its focus on the North Korean threat in Asia, China’s policy of unrelenting pressure on Taiwan has continued unabated.

Since Tsai Ing-wen’s election in 2016, Beijing has cut off formal communications with Taipei, stripped it of democratic allies (thus breaking the “diplomatic truce” that had been in force since 2008), launched a campaign of naval and air exercises around the island, and ensured that Taiwan’s already minimal participation in international organizations was further constrained.

Most recently, China last week inaugurated four new commercial air routes in the Taiwan Strait without informing Taiwan.

In doing so, Beijing ignored a prior agreement with Taipei, dating to 2015, in which China agreed to launch only one of five new routes it had previously announced without consulting the Ma Ying-jeou government.

The M503 air route was previously opened to southbound traffic per the 2015 agreement. Last Thursday, China announced it would henceforth be open to northbound traffic as well. China also announced the opening of three west-east feeder routes to the M503 from Xiamen, Fuzhou, and Dongshan.

The M503 runs just west of the Taiwan Strait’s center line, which serves as the unofficial air boundary between Taiwan and mainland China. Those responsible for ensuring Taiwan’s security worry that People’s Liberation Army aircraft may take advantage of the new routes to approach the island under the guise of commercial airliners.

GettyImages-849830556 The first Airbus A330 plane to be delivered by the Airbus Long Range Cabin Completion Centre after the inauguration ceremony in Tianjin, China on September 20, 2017. GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty

China’s behavior here evinces a determination to further unsettle the security environment in the Taiwan Strait and a willingness to do so with little regard for the safety of civil aviation. The actions of a responsible major power these are not.

Taiwan’s inclusion in the Trump administration’s recently released National Security Strategy was a positive development, and the president should now move quickly to put some meat on his strategy’s bones.

Strategic stability is on the wane in the Taiwan Strait. To restore it, and thus head off a potential crisis, Washington should draw closer to Taiwan, support its military modernization needs, and make the island’s security a priority in the administration’s dealings with Beijing.

Michael Mazza is a research fellow in foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

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