Taiwan President Warns China to 'Exercise Restraint' After Warplane Surge

The president of Taiwan warned China on Wednesday to "exercise restrain" in her first remarks since 150 People's Liberation Army (PLA) warplanes conducted exercises near the island across five days.

In a brief address to party leaders in Taipei, Tsai Ing-wen said the surge in PLA aircraft sorties into the southwest corner of Taiwan's air defense identification zone (ADIZ) had "become a topic of common concern to the international community."

"China's actions have seriously undermined regional peace and stability," she told the Democratic Progressive Party's Central Standing Committee. "I must solemnly warn the authorities in Beijing to exercise restraint in order to avoid miscalculation."

Tsai also used her remarks to congratulate new Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and thank Japan's former leader Yoshihide Suga for supporting Taiwan.

Taiwan President Warns China After Warplane Surge
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen meets with members of the military during her visit to Magong Air Force Base on Taiwan's outlying Penghu islands on September 22, 2020. The president warned China on Wednesday to "exercise restrain." SAM YEH/AFP via Getty Images

Chinese military flights into the international airspace between Taiwan proper and the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Island have been steadily increasing since September 2020, when defense officials in Taipei first began logging the activity, which sometimes sees PLA fighters or bombers encircle southern Taiwan.

In the 13 months since, 842 PLA aircraft have entered Taiwan's ADIZ—including 672 this year—in what Taiwan's Defense Ministry has described as "pointed military provocations." In the four days since October 1, waves of Chinese warplanes numbered 38, 39, 16 and 56. On Tuesday, the PLA sent one reconnaissance plane near Taiwan—a sign that its training operations were perhaps coming to an end.

The flights remain entirely within the bounds of international law. They also serve purposes such as pilot training, and are framed as warnings toward Taiwan and its backers, chiefly among them the United States.

To meet, but not match, the PLA's growing capabilities, Taiwan has proposed a 240 billion New Taiwan dollars ($8.57 billion) special defense budget for the procurement of anti-ship and land-based cruise missiles over five years. The funds will also be used to supplement Taiwan's domestically manufactured warships and its coast guard.

During a legislative review of the special spending on Wednesday, Taiwanese Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said tensions across the Taiwan Strait were the highest they had ever been in his 40-year professional career.

On Tuesday, the Foreign Affairs magazine published an essay by Taiwan President Tsai in which she hoped for "mutually beneficial coexistence" with her country's neighbors, adding: "But if its democracy and way of life are threatened, Taiwan will do whatever it takes to defend itself."

"As countries increasingly recognize the threat that the Chinese Communist Party poses, they should understand the value of working with Taiwan," she wrote. "And they should remember that if Taiwan were to fall, the consequences would be catastrophic for regional peace and the democratic alliance system."