This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) flew multiple aircraft into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) at the weekend, in a move analysts said was flexing military muscle at the start of the Biden administration.
The democratic island’s defense ministry said 13 Chinese warplanes—including a Y-8 anti-submarine aircraft, eight Xian H-6K bombers capable of carrying anti-ship cruise missiles and four Shenyang J-16 fighter jets—made incursions into the southwestern part of Taiwan’s ADIZ on Saturday alone, the largest number observed in a single day.
Unlike previous incursions, Saturday’s operation included bombers and fast-moving fighter jets usually used for offensive purposes, linking it to the reported presence of a U.S. aircraft carrier group in the vicinity, the island’s Central News Agency (CNA) reported.
The U.S. State Department hit out at “the pattern of ongoing … attempts [by China] to intimidate its neighbors, including Taiwan.”
“We urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure against Taiwan and instead engage in meaningful dialogue with Taiwan’s democratically elected representatives,” the department said in a statement.
It said the Biden administration would support a resolution of tension with China that was “consistent with the wishes and best interests of the people on Taiwan.”
“We will continue to assist Taiwan in maintaining a sufficient self-defense capability,” it said. “Our commitment to Taiwan is rock-solid.”
You Si-kun, president of Taiwan’s democratically elected parliament, the Legislative Yuan, said the timing was clearly linked to the new administration in the U.S.
“The Biden administration is very concerned that [China] is stepping up its provocative activities,” You told RFA. “It’s fairly clear that they are testing the U.S.’ attitude.”
“I thank the United States for its response, and … think they should take further action to prevent this kind of provocation from China in future,” he said.
‘Testing the waters’
Taiwan defense spokesman Shih Shun-wen said the island’s forces had handled the situation well.
“The national army carried out close reconnaissance and surveillance between the joint services, and handled its state of combat readiness appropriately,” Shih told RFA. “[Taiwan’s] national security was protected.”
Taiwanese military analyst Cheng Chi-wen said the incursions carried both political and military significance.
“It shows that [Beijing is taking] a hard line … meaning that a military response can’t be ruled out, if the U.S. doesn’t act in China’s interests on Taiwan,” Cheng told RFA.
He said Saturday’s operation was far more complex than previous incursions, with the number of sorties far exceeding previous levels.
Former Taiwanese fighter pilot Chang Yen-ting said he expects more of the same in the year to come.
“They are testing the waters, and finding out which way the wind lies,” Chang told RFA. “They want to see how the new president and Secretary of State react on issues like … Taiwan.”
“Basically, the CCP will step up the pressure on Taiwan through the use of military force,” he said.
China’s state-run Global Times newspaper said the incursions were a “routine military exercise.”
Chieh Chung, a research fellow at the National Policy Foundation on the democratic island of Taiwan, said the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is clearly trying to draw attention to its actions.
“They have stepped up the intensity and crossed into the southwestern ADIZ, which sends a message, without excessively raising tensions with the Biden administration,” Chung told RFA.
He said the operation had been carefully planned to shore up Beijing’s negotiating position with the new administration in Washington.
He said the operation could be a precursor to a large-scale sea-air joint exercise in future.
“The imaginary enemy of these [recent] exercises I think is the United States Navy,” he said.
No more appeasement
In 2018, the Pentagon warned that the PLA is gradually preparing for a possible invasion of Taiwan, as the CCP “continued to develop and deploy increasingly advanced military capabilities intended to coerce Taiwan, signal Chinese resolve, and gradually improve capabilities for an invasion.”
Taiwan has never been ruled by Beijing nor formed part of the People’s Republic of China, but has been locked out of international diplomacy and agencies at the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s insistence.
Washington has said it will no longer seek to “appease” China on Taiwan, as the State Department announced an end to a ban on high-level official and diplomatic contact with Taiwanese officials on Jan. 9, at the tail end of the Trump administration.
Under CCP general secretary Xi Jinping, China has stepped up its rhetoric claiming the island as part of its territory, and has refused to rule out a military invasion.
But Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has repeatedly said that the country’s 23 million people have no wish to give up their sovereignty or their democratic way of life.
Taiwan’s ADIZ was created by the United States Armed Forces after World War II, and covers most of Taiwan Strait, part of East China Sea and adjacent airspace, The Aviationist magazine said in a Jan. 24 article on its website.
The zone isn’t defined in any international treaty nor is it regulated by any international body. It extends over what is mostly international airspace, far beyond territorial airspace, which extends only 12 miles from a country’s coastline.
The zones are primarily designed to give a country more time to respond to potentially hostile aircraft, the report said.