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ICAO has yet to respond on new Chinese flight routes: source

2018/01/09 16:46:25

Taipei, Jan. 9 (CNA) Taiwan has expressed its concern to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) over Beijing's recent unilateral activation of four aviation routes close to the median line of the Taiwan Strait, a government source told local media Tuesday.

The ICAO has yet to respond to the concern, however, said the source, who was speaking on condition of anonymity because the individual was not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.

Since Taiwan is not a member of ICAO, a specialized agency under the United Nations responsible for international air navigation, the source said Taiwan has also asked friendly countries who are ICAO members to voice Taiwan's concerns, but to no avail so far.

"We know that the ICAO is reluctant to be involved in such a dispute, but our voice still needs to be heard," the source said, acknowledging that the issue will likely remain unresolved until Taiwan and China hold a new round of cross-Taiwan Strait negotiations.

That is unlikely to happen in the near future because of the standstill in cross-strait relations since the Democratic Progressive Party government took power in May 2016.

China reneged on a 2015 cross-strait agreement with Taiwan on Jan. 4 when it unilaterally activated four new aviation routes in the Taiwan Strait -- a northbound path on the M503 route and three east-west extension routes called W121, W122 and W123.

At its nearest point, the M503 route is only 7.8 kilometers from the centerline of the strait and close to the Taipei Flight Information Region (FIR), while W122 and W123 are close to Taiwan's offshore islands of Matsu and Kinmen, respectively.

China's move to open the four flight routes without prior negotiation with Taiwan has sparked concerns in Taipei about potential intrusions into domestic flight routes to and from Matsu and Kinmen.

In proceeding with the latest routes unilaterally, China not only violated a bilateral agreement but also ICAO guidelines that would have required China to coordinate with Taiwan before announcing the routes, according to the source, who did not specify the ICAO guidelines being referred to.

A CNA check has found with the help of other sources that the ICAO's Air Traffic Services Planning Manual stipulates that changes to any route network should be made only after they have been coordinated with "all parties concerned."

Chieh Chung (揭仲), a senior assistant research fellow at the National Policy Foundation, a Taiwan-based think tank affiliated with the opposition Kuomintang (KMT), said it has always been common sense that before launching any new flight routes, all parties involved should be consulted first for aviation safety reasons.

China was widely condemned internationally for not consulting with others when it first introduced the M503 route in 2015, but without strong enforcement provisions within ICAO, Beijing was able to maintain the route.

In 2015, it allowed planes to fly from north to south along the route, and added south to north flights in its latest adjustments on Jan. 4.

Meanwhile, asked to comment on the new routes controversy, Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrew Lee (李憲章) said the government has made clear its stance on the issue.

It is the ministry's responsibility to inform countries around the world so that they can understand why Taiwan is protesting China's move and be more likely to support Taiwan on the issue, he said.

(By Joseph Yeh)