2024-0201: Taiwan Protests China’s “Unilateral” Flight Path Change; China’s “Legal Warfare” Tactic Against Taiwan

Taiwan Protests China’s “Unilateral” Moving of Flight Path Closer to Strait Median Line

Taiwan’s government has protested against China’s “unilateral” adjustment of a flight path close to the median line of the Taiwan Strait, saying it was a deliberate attempt to change the “status quo” of the Taiwan Strait and a move that could harm aviation safety.

On January 30, China’s Civil Aviation Administration announced that it would from February 1 cancel an “offset measure” for flights operating on the M503 flight route, which lies just west of the Taiwan Strait’s median line — an unofficial demarcation between Taiwan and China that Beijing does not recognize but until recently largely respected.

This means that all flights on M503 would no longer need to veer off six nautical miles (11.11km) to the west from the designated route — as agreed by China and Taiwan in 2015 — and can now fly on the original path, bringing the aircraft closer to the median line.

“The Chinese government ignored the agreement that both sides reached in 2015, and its unilateral move would severely affect aviation safety across the Taiwan Strait. The ploy, along with increasingly frequent flights of high-altitude balloons over Taiwan, are designed to destroy the peace and stability across the Strait. We strongly condemn such inappropriate action,” Taiwan’s Premier Chen Chien-jen said on January 31.

Taiwan’s civil aviation and national security officials are deliberating over proper responses to the move, Chen added.

Meanwhile, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also issued a statement on January 31 condemning China’s “recent destabilizing actions in the Taiwan Strait.”

China’s “unilateral decision to adjust a disputed flight path in the Taiwan Strait is dangerous and provocative,” Cardin said. “This move only serves to heighten security risks, undermine aviation safety, and threaten cross-Strait stability.”

“It is no coincidence that this action is being taken within weeks of a free and fair election in Taiwan, the result of which Beijing had made abundantly clear was not its preferred outcome. The United States remains firm in our commitment to stand with the people of Taiwan and their right to determine their own future,” he added.

[1] Taipei Times: https://www.taipeitimes.com/News/front/archives/2024/02/01/2003812919
[2] Reuters: https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taiwan-angered-unilateral-china-change-taiwan-strait-flight-path-2024-01-31/
[3] Sen. Ben Cardin’s Office: https://www.foreign.senate.gov/press/dem/release/chair-cardin-statement-on-the-peoples-republic-of-chinas-recent-destabilizing-actions-in-the-taiwan-strait

China’s Flight Path Adjustment Is a “Legal Warfare” Tactic Against Taiwan: Experts

According to experts, China’s unilateral decision to move the M503 flight path closer to the Taiwan Strait’s median line is an attempt to put more pressure on Taiwan’s air defenses and an act of “legal warfare” to deny the existence of the median line and the legal presence of Taiwan.

Shen Ming-shih, a research fellow at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research, said that China’s cancelation of an “offset” of the flight route will put more burden on Taiwan’s air defenses, as Taiwan would now have to monitor not only Chinese military aircraft but also civilian planes close to the Strait median line.

China’s move was a typical “gray zone” tactic aimed at disrupting regional peace and was an apparent response to the result of Taiwan’s January presidential election, Shen added.

Chieh Chung, an associate researcher at the National Policy Foundation, said that China’s flight path adjustment imposes constraints on Taiwan’s air defense strategies and reduces air force response times.

Chieh added that it was also an act of “legal warfare” that attempts to deny the existence of the Taiwan Strait’s median line and undermine the legality of Taiwan’s designation of restricted airspace.

A Voice of America report cited Council on Foreign Relations researcher David Sacks as saying that the move is a “legal warfare” ploy targeting Taiwan and that the Chinese government’s attempt to eliminate Taiwan’s legal presence was worrying.

The U.S. and its allies, such as Japan and Australia, could help integrate Taiwan into regional trading systems, and encourage interactions between Taiwan and other countries with which it does not have official diplomatic relations to counter China’s ploy, Sacks said.

Most importantly, Taiwan’s self-defense capabilities must be bolstered to reduce the military threat from China, he said.

[1] Focus Taiwan: https://focustaiwan.tw/cross-strait/202401310009
[2] Taipei Times: https://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2024/02/01/2003812928