Recent Chinese intrusions into Taiwan's ADIZ aimed at U.S.: analyst

01/31/2021 05:45 PM
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A Y-8 tactical reconnaissance plane. Photo courtesy of the Ministry of National Defense.
A Y-8 tactical reconnaissance plane. Photo courtesy of the Ministry of National Defense.

Taipei, Jan. 31 (CNA) Amid Beijing's frequent air sorties into Taiwan's southwest air defense identification zone (ADIZ), the two largest maneuvers on Jan. 23 and 24 were directed more at the new Joe Biden administration of the United States than Taiwan, according to an expert with a government-funded think tank in Taiwan.

The observation was made in a paper by Hung Tzu-chieh (洪子傑), an assistant research fellow at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research (INDSR).

According to Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense, China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) sent warplanes into the airspace between Taiwan and the Dongsha (Pratas) Islands in the South China Sea on at least 100 days in 2020.

The airspace, above strategic waters connecting the Taiwan Strait and the Bashi Channel to the South China Sea, is considered by Taiwan to be part of its ADIZ.

Chinese military planes flew into that zone 26 out of the first 30 days in 2021, Defense Ministry records showed.

However, the two largest intrusions came on Jan. 23 and 24, when the PLA sent 13 and 15 military planes, including bombers and fighter jets, respectively, into the area.

The Jan. 24 intrusions marked the second highest count of PLA planes mobilized in one day since mid-September 2020 when Taiwan's military began to publicize such maneuvers.

In his analysis paper posted on INDSR's website on Jan. 27, Hung noted that the two major intrusions happened shortly after U.S. President Biden took office.

The mode of the "harassment" also differed with the past as the PLA has mostly deployed only one to two low-speed spy planes, which are not considered as provocative as fighter jets, for such sorties, he pointed out.

In addition, the two intrusions were considered "less intimidating" to Taiwan as they took place in airspace southwest of Taiwan rather than in the middle of Taiwan Strait, he said.

In some previous instances, PLA sent warplanes across the median line of the Taiwan Strait, especially when Beijing saw developments involving Taiwan as violating its "one China" principle.

In the first nine month of 2020, nearly 50 PLA aircraft crossed the median line, Taiwan's Defense Minister Yen De-fa (嚴德發) told lawmakers at a legislative hearing on Oct. 7 that year.

Hung speculated that the Jan. 23 and 24 intrusions were Beijing's response to the invitation extended by Washington to Taiwan's top envoy to the U.S., Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴), for Biden's inauguration, and a statement by the U.S. State Department on Jan. 23 urging China to stop intimidating Taiwan.

Although the two incidents can still be viewed as part of Beijing's continued coercion of Taiwan, messaging to the Biden administration and military training may be Beijing's main objectives, Hung said.

From a political viewpoint, Beijing may want to pressure the new U.S. government for bilateral dialogue, he said.

From a military perspective, the PLA may also want to test and hone its combat skills as the U.S. aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt and its battle group transited the Bashi Channel into the South China Sea on Jan. 23, he added.

Whatever Beijing's motives, they pose a challenge to Taiwan's defense, Hung said, adding that such maneuvers are expected to continue.

However, intrusions by warplanes are a "double-edged sword," Huang said. While Beijing moves to increase its military presence in the region, such action enables the U.S. to cite legitimate reasons for arms sales to Taiwan, he contended.

(By Emerson Lim)

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