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DEFENSE/China may replicate flight path adjustments in East, South China Seas: Expert

02/08/2024 08:04 PM
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Taipei, Feb. 8 (CNA) China's unilateral alterations to flight paths near the Taiwan Strait median line not only undermine stability in the Taiwan Strait but also pose a threat to regional security, particularly amid concerns such maneuvers could be replicated in the East and South China Seas, a defense expert warned.

The remarks by Lee Ting-sheng (李廷盛), deputy executive officer at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research (INDSR), came following an announcement by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), that it was canceling its "offset" on the north-south M503 flight path on January 30.

At that time, CAAC also announced the launch of the eastbound W122 and W123 paths connecting the M503 to Fuzhou and Xiamen, respectively.

It claimed all these adjustments were to ease air traffic caused by an increase of flights between key locations, to ensure flight safety, and to prevent delays.

The "offset" refers to an agreement reached between Taipei and Beijing in 2015 to move the M503 path 11 kilometers to the west of its original location, according to Shen Ming-shih (沈明室), a research fellow at the INDSR.

As China successfully eliminates the "offset" from its M503 flight path, it could also replicate this maneuver in the East China Sea and South China Sea, with potential repercussions for the "first island chain" and the broader Indo-Pacific region, Lee Ting-sheng said at a recent national security briefing in Taipei.

The first island chain encompasses a series of islands extending from countries including Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines.

Beijing will initially promote what is favorable to China and subsequently take measures to broaden its sphere of influence across the East China Sea, Taiwan Strait, and South China Sea, according to Lee.

This will inevitably cause regional tension, he noted.

Moreover, with the removal of the offset, the M503 flight path will now be closer to Taiwan's airspace, Lee said.

Given these circumstances, if Chinese civilian aircraft exploit adverse weather conditions as a pretext to move towards the median line of the strait, Taiwan could find itself in a 'boiling frog' situation," he said.

Combined with the recurring instances of Chinese military aircraft crossing the median line of the strait, the airspace will witness the presence of civilian aircraft, fighter jets, bombers, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft, further complicating the situation, according to Lee.

This becomes especially challenging when both fighter jets and civilian aircraft are simultaneously tracked on radar, he noted.

When the blips of the aircraft overlap on the radar screen, it is more difficult for the Taiwanese side to distinguish between the two, Lee said.

A Chinese air controller explains to reporters the busy air traffic in eastern China, in Shanghai in March 2015. CNA file photo
A Chinese air controller explains to reporters the busy air traffic in eastern China, in Shanghai in March 2015. CNA file photo

In addition, the introduction of routes W122 and W123 signifies the Chinese Communist Party's unilateral decision to allow Chinese civilian aircraft to closely align with the route commonly traversed by Taiwanese flights from Taiwan proper to the outlying islands of Kinmen and Matsu, Lee said.

Also addressing the briefing, Shen echoed Lee's analysis, saying that the introduction of W122 and W123 will heighten the volatility in the Taiwan Strait.

He argued that Taiwan's response time would be shortened if Chinese fighter jets or large aircraft traversed these two routes and proceeded toward Taiwan.

Chen Ming-chi (陳明祺), the chief executive officer at the think tank, said that China's recent actions would increase the likelihood of miscalculations and misfires.

Chen argued that China's latest maneuver is political, yet it poses military risks.

(By Wen Kuei-hsiang and Chung Yu-chen)

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