On Monday last week, Minister of National Defense Feng Shih-kuan (馮世寬), a retired air force general, told the Legislative Yuan that Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force aircraft flew around Taiwan’s airspace.
US President Barack Obama and international media outlets have insinuated that US president-elect Donald Trump’s sudden and surprising pronouncements on policy regarding Taiwan are to blame for raising tension with China.
More advanced thinking and management of communications would be helpful if Trump continues to implement changes in how the US conducts policies.
Nonetheless, it is not helpful to say that China’s provocations are “responses” to Trump. Since before the US election, there has been concern that China would provoke tension and test the US during the transition. That concern is heightened in the hand over from laid-back Obama to the less experienced Trump. China has also provoked tensions in the East and South China seas.
China’s provocations of Taiwan, the Philippines, the US and others should not be seen as new, surprising, or as responses, but rather as part of its militarization of aggressive claims in the Indo-Asia-Pacific. China has also conducted political warfare using the media.
What is somewhat stunning is the series of quick developments involving the US elections and Trump’s approach to dealing with Taiwan.
On Dec. 2, Trump took a telephone call from President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), who, like other world leaders, sought to congratulate the president-elect on his victory at the polls, but added that she remains cautious about supporting the “status quo.”
On Dec. 11, Trump told Fox News Sunday: “I fully understand the ‘one China’ policy, but I don’t know why we have to be bound by a ‘one China’ policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade.”
The mainstream, bipartisan US view sees Taiwan not as leverage, but as an economic and security partner and a beacon of democracy in the world.
However, even before the Tsai-Trump telephone call, on Nov. 25, PLA Air Force military aircraft flew around Taiwan just outside its air defense identification zone for the first time.
Significantly, Deputy Minister of National Defense Lee Hsi-ming (李喜明), who is also an admiral, publicly discussed China’s provocation.
Lee also told the Legislative Yuan that Taiwan and Japan scrambled fighters to respond to the Chinese aircraft.
Lee did a real service for Taiwan’s strategic communication by saying that Taiwan is well aware of China’s threats, by reminding the public about those ongoing threats, and by boosting confidence in Taiwan’s will to fight.
Then, for the second time, on Dec. 10, the PLA Air Force flew four aircraft around Taiwan close to its air defense identification zone, but remained in international airspace. The flights appeared to be part of a long-distance training program that included more military aircraft flying over the Miyako Strait between Japan and Taiwan, and over the Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the Philippines.
In addition, before this eventful month, the author heard a warning in the summer, from a professor visiting from Beijing who has ties to Chinese officials, that China contemplated options to pressure Taiwan.
Such options include military pressure around Taiwan up to its 12 nautical mile (22.2km) territorial sea or airspace. In this view, the PLA would copy the US military’s reconnaissance operations against China and use them against Taiwan. The PLA appears to be operationalizing this threat in the air and can be expected to follow with provocations at sea.