Nevertheless, in the interest of passenger flight safety and because circumstances dictate, the government cannot allow aircraft or passengers to be exposed to any danger whatsoever because of political disputes. It has therefore followed the US model and has not actually prohibited civil aviation carriers from complying with China’s stipulations.
However, this does not mean that the government should come out and order its agencies to comply. What it should do is lodge an official protest against Beijing’s unilateral announcement of the zone.
Since circumstances have changed, Taiwan should consider whether it should revise its own air defense zone. As this situation arose partially because of the territorial disputes surrounding sovereignty over the Diaoyutais, both Japan and China have included the islands within their respective air defense zones. Taiwan is the only claimant of the islands — known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan — that has not included them within its own zone.
If the government continues to be passive on the issue, there is the risk of undermining its sovereignty claim. This has been exacerbated by South Korea’s recent announcement of its intention to expand its own air defense identification zone, scheduled to take effect on Sunday.
Japan had already, in June 2010, announced that it would extend its western zone by 14 nautical miles (26km) to incorporate Yonaguni Island, which it also claims sovereignty over. This amendment actually diverted somewhat from the straight line of 123o east that demarcates the border between the Japanese and Taiwanese air defense zones, protruding slightly into Taiwan’s space so that the two overlap.
China announced last month that it was extending its air defense identification zone to cover the Diaoyutais, which makes it perfectly valid for Taiwan to follow suit and consider amending its zone to include the Diaoyutais.
Finally, there has been a lot of clamor over whether China is thinking about establishing a similar zone in the South China Sea and the Yellow Sea.
While a South China Sea air defense identification zone would present serious challenges, Taiwan has to be more prepared for what it should do if Beijing announces an air defense identification zone in the Taiwan Strait. China did plan to establish such a zone, together with one over the East China Sea, in December 2007, but backed down in the face of international protest at a time when it was soon to hold the Beijing Olympics.
Now that Beijing has suddenly announced an air defense identification zone in the East China Sea, we cannot rule out the possibility that Beijing will resurrect its plans for one over the Taiwan Strait.
The nation needs to be prepared for that eventuality.
Chiang Huang-chih is a professor of law at National Taiwan University.
Translated by Paul Cooper