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China launched new M503 flights to test Taiwan and U.S.: scholars

2018/01/11 23:37:38

Taipei, Jan. 11 (CNA) China's unilateral launch of northbound flights on route M503 was intended to test the reaction of Taiwan and the United States, according to scholars at a seminar hosted by the Institute for National Policy Research (INPR) in Taipei Thursday.

According to the scholars, it is no coincidence that the move came in the wake of talks between North and South Koreas, Japan pushing for visits of leaders between Beijing and Tokyo and the U.S. passing a Taiwan-friendly National Defense Authorization Act in 2017.

China unilaterally announced the opening of the M503 northbound route on the morning of Jan. 4, which is only 4.2 nautical miles, approximately 7.8 km from the centerline of the Taiwan Strait, at its nearest point.

Three Chinese east-west extension routes called W121, W122 and W123 now overlap with Taiwan's W6, W8 and W2 flight routes serving Matsu and Kinmen.

INPR official Kuo Yu-jen (郭育仁), a professor at National Sun Yat-sen University, notes that North and South Koreas recently resumed talks and Sino-Japanese relations have eased with ongoing discussions about visits by their respective heads of state, effectively drowning out Taiwan's international voice.

The Chinese government applied to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) for the M503 route in 2008 with negotiations between China and Taiwan in 2015, explained Kuo.

If it is because of the demand for flights, why open the M503 northbound route now, asked Kuo who suggested that it was part of a well considered strategy.

Tamkang University's Graduate Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies Professor Wong Ming-hsien (翁明賢) noted that the U.S. Congress recently passed the National Defense Authorization Act, which touches on strengthening military exchanges between Taiwan and the U.S. and upgrading Taiwan's military.

It also includes assessing the feasibility of mutual visits between U.S. and Taiwan naval vessels, all of which have aroused China's concern, said Wong, who believes the opening of the M503 route was an example of China testing the U.S. and its position on Taiwan Strait.

Yan Jiann-fa (顏建發), a former director of the Democratic Progressive Party's China Affairs Department and currently an associate professor in Chien Hsin University of Science and Technology's Department of Business Administration, said Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping's "One Belt and One Road Initiative" and his desire to establish a well-off society in 2020 all require a stable political and economic environment.

As such, there is little chance of China launching a war but that does not mean it will abandon its military expansion, said Yan.

China's excuse that crowded airspace made it imperative that it open northbound flights on M503 is just an excuse. Indeed, even though it is a civil aviation route it could gradually be incorporated into military aircraft exercises in the future, said Yan.

The opening of the M503 is essentially strategic and tactical as China tests the reaction of Taiwan's government with no losses for Beijing, said Yan.

National Defense University professor Ma Chen-kun (馬振坤) said that Xi has made frequent strategic overseas moves since taking office and although Beijing denies these have been targeted, they have all aroused the suspicion of neighboring countries.

In fact, these actions are changing the status quo surrounding security and stability not only for Taiwan but other countries, said Ma.

If Beijing truly believes that its actions are not threatening, it should sit down and negotiate with the parties concerned to dispel suspicion, Ma said, adding that only when Chinese leaders negotiate with other countries will they understand the reasons for those suspicions and adjust their behavior accordingly.

(By Miao Zong-han and William Yen)