Hong Kong air traffic controllers turning away a Taiwanese flight last week might have been China’s first move in a broader campaign to restrict Taiwan’s air access to its outlying islands, a retired air force general said on Saturday.
The government needs to establish a response plan in the event that aircraft are denied entry to Flight Information Regions (FIRs) en route to Kinmen and Matsu, among others islands, retired lieutenant general Chang Yen-ting (張延廷) said.
The Ministry of National Defense, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of the Interior, as well as the Straits Exchange Foundation and Mainland Affairs Council, must prepare for China to use similar tactics against military flights, Chang said.
Chang was commenting on an incident on Thursday last week, when a military-chartered civilian aircraft traveling to the Pratas Islands (Dongsha Islands, 東沙群島) from Kaohsiung was warned off by air traffic controllers, who said that “dangerous activities” were in progress in the area, according to a report from the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA).
The islands, administered by Taiwan, but also claimed by China, are located about 310km southeast of Hong Kong and are within its FIR.
It has been standard practice for Taiwanese air traffic controllers to inform their Hong Kong counterparts whenever a plane in the Taipei FIR is about to enter the Hong Kong FIR and is about 20 to 30 nautical miles (37km to 56km) away.
The CAA faulted Hong Kong authorities for abruptly denying the flight entry, rather than issuing a “notice to airmen” in advance regarding hazards along the route.
Chang said that he was worried that China might also begin demanding notification about Taiwanese military flights, which could affect air access to Kinmen, Matsu and Itu Aba Island (Taiping Island, 太平島) in the South China Sea.
In a worst-case scenario, China could potentially scramble jets to intercept Taiwanese civilian or military flights that ignored those demands, he said.
Such tactics would increase pressure on Taiwan by “sealing it off” without the use of force, he said.
The Democratic Progressive Party has called the incident “Chinese interference.”
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) said it was “serious and surprising,” while urging the Ministry of National Defense to handle it with caution.
Uni Air, which operated the flight, declined to say whether a planned flight to Dongsha on Thursday would proceed.
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