On Sunday, the US Seventh Fleet published a photo of the USS Chancellorsville sailing through the Taiwan Strait the day before, confirming that the guided-missile cruiser was equipped with the Aegis Combat System and was on a mission to maintain security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. The move was clearly “preventive diplomacy” or “preventive defense” directed at China.
Why did Washington take such a high-profile action as the COVID-19 outbreak in China continues to trouble Beijing?
Unnamed sources say that Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) warplanes entered Taiwan’s outer airspace twice within 24 hours on Feb. 9 and Feb. 10, crossing the median line the second day. The sources said that it was these rash actions that prompted the US act.
The Ministry of National Defense only said that the aircraft escorting China’s H-6 bombers and some other warplanes crossed the line when flying over waters south of Taiwan on their return from the Bashi Channel.
Surprisingly, sources confirmed that the Chinese J-11 planes both crossed the line and locked on to Taiwan’s military aircraft scrambling to intercept, and tensions were high.
“Locking on” to the Taiwanese jets means that the Chinese could have fired at any time, and it would have been a prelude to battle. This was an extraordinary action that goes beyond simple harassment and could be seen as a hostile provocation.
China’s past military intimidation pattern was for Chinese warplanes to leave Taiwan’s airspace after Taiwanese jets arrived and issued radio warnings, and it is rare that they would adopt this dangerous approach.
Whether the PLA pilots did so because they became nervous seeing several Taiwanese military aircraft or because they were under orders and acted intentionally, as even the slightest mistake could have accidentally sparked an incident. This is why Taiwan attaches great importance to China’s true intentions.
Washington dared not ignore the Chinese provocation, and the US Department of State immediately called on Beijing to cease its threats. On Wednesday last week, the US Air Force sent its aircraft to fly around Taiwan — an MC-130J Super Hercules military transport aircraft flying south along the Strait and two B-52s flying north-south east of Taiwan — to declare that the Strait is considered the high seas.
The next day, the US sent a P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft over the waters off Taiwan’s southernmost tip, Oluanpi (鵝鑾鼻), followed by the passage of the Chancellorsville on Saturday last week. Washington has since issued repeated warnings to the PLA not to misjudge the cross-strait situation.
President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) recently called a high-level meeting on the future developments of the Chinese regime in order to consider worst-case scenarios. Although Tsai’s national security team predicted that Beijing would not stir up trouble in the Strait to divert domestic pressures, the possibility should not be ignored considering that the Chinese agencies responsible for Taiwan affairs and propaganda have brainwashed the Chinese public to boost hatred against Taiwan.
For example, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) mouthpieces have attacked Taiwan, and there are reports that they have hired Taiwanese models to shoot videos to give the false impression that Taiwan would rather waste masks than donate them to Wuhan.
Such tricks distort fact and sully Taiwan’s image to shift blame away from the CCP. As China attempts to direct public opinion, Taiwan should pay closer attention and be well-prepared for those tactics.
Tzou Jiing-wen is editor-in-chief of the Liberty Times (the sister newspaper of the Taipei Times).
Translated by Eddy Chang
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