Sun, Jan 18, 2015 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: China acting the uncivilized traveler

Taiwanese have long been concerned about China’s infringement of its space on the international stage. Now they have to be worried about its increasing infringement on the nation’s air space.

In yet another slap in the face to Taipei, Beijing this week said that as of the beginning of March, it would add four new air routes to reduce congestion between Shanghai and the Pearl River Delta. The crucial north-south route, labeled M503, would run nearly parallel to the median line of the Taiwan Strait and come as close as 7.8km to it.

That Beijing made the announcement without consulting Taiwanese authorities in advance was yet another sign that it pays only lip service to the idea of cross-strait negotiations and dealing with Taipei as an equal. The comment by a spokesman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office that the nation should show “more understanding and less suspicion” was a prime example of Chinese superciliousness.

Taiwanese authorities say the proposed routes would conflict with existing ones. While the new routes would fall under the jurisdiction of the Shanghai Flight Information Region (FIR), the nearness of M503 to the Taipei FIR means that Taiwanese air traffic controllers would have to worry about it, especially during bad weather.

The Taipei FIR, which covers 180,000 square nautical miles (about 617,383km2), is responsible for some of the busiest airspace in the region. It is bordered by Japan’s Fukuoka FIR, the Hong Kong FIR, the Shanghai FIR and the Manila FIR, and its western boundary runs close to the median line of the Taiwan Strait.

In 2013, it was estimated that about 1.3 million flights carrying 40 million travelers pass through the Taipei FIR annually. Air traffic, both passenger and cargo, has only grown since then.

Minister of Foreign Affairs David Lin (林永樂) said the government has protested to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) over the new routes and urged Beijing to negotiate on the issue with Taipei. However, Beijing said it had already cleared the four routes with the ICAO — although one Chinese official added that it was willing to “communicate” with Taipei over the matter.

This incident is another reminder of the nation’s impotence because of its exclusion from membership in UN-related organizations and agencies since the Republic of China lost its UN seat in 1971.

The government hailed its ability to send representatives to the ICAO assembly in October 2013 for the first time in decades as a breakthrough resulting from its efforts to ease cross-strait tensions, but the truth is that they were only there as “guests” of the ICAO council president because China had blocked efforts by the US and several other nations for Taiwan to gain even observer status in the organization.

It is hard not to see this week’s actions as a follow-up to the November 2013 declaration of an air defense identification zone over a large portion of the East China Sea. Beijing has once again shown that it is not willing to be, or interested in being, a team player or a responsible actor on either a regional or global stage. It just keeps nibbling away, pushing the boundaries and hoping that others will be too intimidated to push back.

The Chinese move to unilaterally establish air routes is not something that Beijing can claim to be “a purely domestic affair.” Aviation traffic safety is an international concern and relies upon smoothly integrated teamwork by air traffic controllers from neighboring nations, who must respect and trust each other’s decisions.

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