Antony Blinken Says China Military Flights Near Taiwan 'Destabilizing'

Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for China to cease its "provocative military activity near Taiwan," after the island's jets were scrambled against 150 warplanes in the first few days of October alone.

Following an event in Paris, the secretary of state said the frequent flights were "potentially destabilizing." He told Bloomberg: "What I hope is that these actions will cease because there is always the possibility of miscalculation, of miscommunication, and that's dangerous."

The Biden administration's most senior diplomat, who is in France seeking to mend ties amid the fallout over AUKUS pact, said the actions: "Go in exactly the wrong direction" of maintaining stability between Beijing and Taipei, with the delicate relationship currently in its most fractured state in many decades.

Blinken added: "It's very important that no one take any unilateral actions that change the status quo by force, and so we really need to see China cease some of the actions that it's taken because they are potentially a source of instability, not stability."

He described U.S.-China ties as among the "most consequential" and "most complicated" relationships in the world.

In separate remarks to the press, he repeated U.S. concerns about China's "provocative military activity near Taiwan," saying the conduct "has the potential to undermine regional peace and stability."

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen has urged China to "exercise restraint" in order to avoid sparking an accidental conflict.

Speaking during a visit to New Delhi on the same day, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said of China's military activity: "They have sent sorties of airplanes across Taiwan's path over the last couple of days...We find that to be a very dangerous action."

"We will challenge China where we must, we want to make sure there's a free, open, interconnected Indo-Pacific, as does India," The Hindu quoted her as saying. "And that means that China doesn't get to decide who gets to use those waterways and who doesn't."

Aircraft Sorties

Taiwan's Defense Ministry began recording Chinese military aircraft sorties into its air defense identification zone (ADIZ) last September. The buffer zone—used for the identification of approaching civilian and military planes—is part of international airspace. But the near-daily training missions, occurring about 100 to 150 miles away, have left Taipei on edge.

According to publicly available data compiled by Washington-based defense analyst Gerald Brown, China's People's Liberation Army has flown 842 sorties into the island's ADIZ—mostly in the southwest corner—in the past 13 months. Observers say the frequent PLA operations achieve both military and political goals by training Chinese pilots while intimidating Taiwan's population at the same time.

During a parliamentary hearing in Taipei on Wednesday, Taiwan's Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said the country's air force was under considerable pressure, but he assured lawmakers that Taiwanese pilots would follow strict protocol while in the air.

"Never strike first—we will absolutely abide by that, despite the pressure our pilots and operators are under," he said.

Late on Tuesday, President Joe Biden caused brief confusion among observers in Washington and politicians in Taipei when he responded to a reporter's question about the military flights by saying he and China's Xi Jinping had agreed to "abide by the Taiwan agreement."

"We made it clear that I don't think he should be doing anything other than abiding by the agreement," Biden added.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki clarified the president's remarks at a regular briefing on Wednesday, saying Biden was referring to America's "one China" policy and its commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act.

The topic of Taiwan was also brought up at a six-hour meeting between national security adviser Jake Sullivan and China's foreign affairs official Yang Jiechi in Zurich, Switzerland, according to a statement by the White House.

Washington and Beijing have agreed to keep channels of communication open in order to de-escalate tensions and avoid accidents. Biden and Xi are scheduled to meet virtually in the coming weeks in what will be only their third direct communication this year.

Blinken Leads Calls Against China's Military Activity
Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a closing press conference with the secretary-general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development at the 60th OECD Ministerial Council Meeting on October 6, 2021, in Paris, France. IAN LANGSDON/POOL/AFP via Getty Images