Explained: Latest escalation in tension between China and Taiwan

The developments in the Indo-Pacific region are being watched warily by the international community.

China could mount a full-scale invasion of Taiwan by 2025. This is the warning that Taiwan’s defence minister Chiu Kuo-cheng shared with the country’s parliament on Wednesday. Taipei-Beijing relationship has been strained for years, but the latest escalation comes from a series of air incursions by the Chinese military.

Over the course of the past four days, Taiwan has reported the unauthorised entry of around 150 aircrafts, the first of which coincided with China’s National Day celebrations on Friday. Taiwan terms these as attempts to harass the island, which Beijing claims as its own. Taiwai, however, considers itself to be a sovereign nation.

The developments in the Indo-Pacific region are being watched warily by the international community. Neighours in the region like Japan and Australia have asked the two nations to sort out the tensions via diplomacy, while United States has condemned China’s actions.

What happened?

The sequence of incursions, according to Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense, is as follows:

Oct 1: As many as 38 PLA aircrafts flew southwest of Taiwan in two sorties. The aircrafts involved were 28 J-16s, four SU-30s, four H-6s, one Y-8 ASW and one KJ-500. The J-17 and SU-30 fighter jets involved are capable of carrying nuclear weapons.

Oct 2: Taiwan reported that 39 Chinese air force planes flew into its air defence zone in two waves. The first batch of 20 aircrafts (14 J-16s, four SU-30s and two Y-8 ASWs) flew in an area close to the Pratas Islands, while the second group of 12 J-16s, six SU-30s and one KJ-500 AEW&C flew down into the Bashi Channel. The channel separates Taiwan from the Philippines, and is an intergral waterway that links the Pacific with the disputed South China Sea.

Oct 3: On Saturday, the Asian giant again flew 16 military planes toward Taiwan. This included eight J-16s, four SU-30s, two Y-8 ASWs and two KJ-500 AEW&Cs.

Oct 4: The third incursion was bigger, and comprised of 56 People’s Liberation Army aircrafts. Taiwan said that the aircrafts passed over the island’s southwest coast at a distance of 200 to 300 kilometers. The incursion took place in two batches. One comprised of four J-16, while the other comprised of 34 J-16s, two SU-30s, two Y-8 ASWs, two KJ-500 AEW&Cs and 12 H-6s.

Oct 5: One PLA Y-8 ASW An additional incursion was reported on Tuesday.

China’s continuous breaching of the air defence zone is seen as a tactic to test the capabilities of the Taipei defence forces. It is to be noted that none of the incursions have occurred over Taiwans airspace. The breach has occurred over Taiwan’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ). While a country’s airspace is internationally recognised by law, its air defence zone is a self-declared region which is monitored by the country’s military for defence purposes.

Reactions

In response, Taiwan said that they are reviewing the extra military spending plan worth $8.6 billion over the course of the next five years. The budget is meant for home-made weapons including missiles and warships.

The United States, which is a close ally of Taiwan, has condemned the incursions. However, US President Joe Biden said that he spoke with Chinese premier Xi Jinping. “I’ve spoken with Xi about Taiwan. We agree … we’ll abide by the Taiwan agreement,” he said. “We made it clear that I don’t think he should be doing anything other than abiding by the agreement.”

The Taiwan agreement refers to the understanding between the US and China, through with the Washington has formed diplomatic ties with Beijing and not Taipei, but continues a strong, informal relationship with Taiwan.

Japan’s Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi expressed hope that China and Taiwan will resolve the issue through direct dialogue, The country, which recently elected their new Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, indicated that it will prepare for various scenarios that could arise from the boiling tensions in the region.

Australia, meanwhile, took a stronger stance while expressing concern over China’s increased air incursions.

“Resolution of differences over Taiwan and other regional issues must be achieved peacefully through dialogue and without the threat or use of force or coercion,” a spokesperson for the country’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told the Guardian.

The statement comes weeks after Australia signed a defence pact with the United States and the United Kingdom. The pact, known as AUKUS, will allow Australia to build nuclear-powered submarines with US technology, and is widely seen as a move to counter China’s growing influence in the region.

 

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