Sat, Jan 13, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Brandishing a double-edged sword

By John Lim 林泉忠

Since the very beginning of this year, China has on several occasions taken unilateral action both at sea and in the air, effectively building up tension in the Taiwan Strait. This highlights Beijing’s power-oriented policy toward Taiwan in the era of Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) following the Chinese Communist Party’s 19th National Congress.

Beijing’s strategy is most likely to increase pressure and erode the effectiveness of Taiwan’s jurisdiction bit by bit so as to gradually and substantially change the “status quo” of cross-strait relations.

Taiwan is likely to be very busy from now on, reacting to the constantly increasing threats posed by Beijing.

The question is whether China’s strategy will lead to a further worsening of the Taiwanese public’s confidence in Beijing, and if it will prompt the US and Japan to adjust their security cooperation strategy so that it more clearly includes Taiwan.

On Jan. 4, Beijing unilaterally announced that it was launching the northbound M503 flight route, which runs very close to the median line of the Taiwan Strait, as well as three other extension routes — W121, W122 and W123. The announcement provoked a very strong reaction in Taipei.

Mainland Affairs Council Minister Katharine Chang (張小月) said that aviation safety is of primary concern and that it is something that is required by every country in the world.

“China not only breached the terms of the 2015 agreement, but it is also attempting to cover its malicious intentions toward Taiwan — both politically and militarily — under the guise of civil aviation. The move has generated concerns that it could potentially change the ‘status quo’ across the Taiwan Strait,” she added.

Even though Beijing continues to claim sovereignty over Taiwan and has never formally recognized the de facto existence of Taiwan’s government, it has at least complied with regulations related to the median line of the Taiwan Strait and respected Taiwan’s jurisdiction over the airspace east of the median line for the past 70 years.

According to the International Civil Aviation Organization’s regulations, countries must leave a safe distance of at least 10km between their air routes and a median line. However, China created the M503 flight route in 2015 along the west side of the median line, which is the border of the Taipei flight information region, and the closest distance between the route and the median line is only 7.8km.

It is this breach of the regulations that is the basis for Taiwan’s strong reaction.

Beijing’s unilateral action is a sign of its disregard for the agreement reached in negotiations between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait in March 2015.

At that time, Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was president, the cross-strait relationship was calmer and the two sides had restarted the negotiation platform between Taiwan’s Straits Exchange Foundation and China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits. Communication between the two sides was smooth.

However, after President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) won the election and was inaugurated on May 20, 2016, Beijing broke contact between the two organizations because it thought that Tsai was refusing to acknowledge the so-called “1992 consensus.”

There is no doubt that the unilateral launch of the M503 flight route is yet another way for Beijing to punish the Tsai administration.

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