Mainland China tightens squeeze on Taiwan as new flight routes close to key dividing line add to pressure on air defences

Feb 28, 2024 | INVESTING

Beijing is planning to launch more civilian flights along a sensitive route in the Taiwan Strait that may add to the pressure on the island by squeezing its air defences. The change comes amid heightened tensions following the deaths of two mainland fishermen who were being chased by the Taiwanese coastguard earlier this month. The two new routes are extensions of an existing controversial flight path that is just a few kilometres from the median line in the Taiwan Strait which unofficially separates the island and the Chinese mainland. “The [routes] will be launched as soon as they are ready,” Zhu Fenglian, a spokeswoman for Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said on Wednesday. Once launched, mainland planes could more easily stay over the line, a move analysts said would put more strain on the island’s air defences because of the need to distinguish between military and civilian planes and reduce the time available to respond to any attack. Mainland China’s top Taiwan official pledges support for pro-unification forces Chieh Chung, a senior analyst at the National Policy Foundation, a think tank affiliated with Taiwan’s main opposition party Kuomintang, said the M503 route was just 7.8km (4.8 miles) from the median line at its closest point. “It means a mainland civilian plane could easily fly past the median line in a bigger turn if it is using the [new] lanes as these two routes are closest to the median line,” he said. He said it would further squeeze the island’s air defences because military planes could follow the same routes as civilian flights and cut the time available to respond to any attack. Shen Ming-shih, director of the Institute for National Defence and Security Research, a government think tank in Taipei, said Taiwan would be “under great pressure to keep an eye on regional air traffic as it would need to spend more time and money to monitor and warn off any military and civilian planes”. The two new routes will be extensions of an existing flight path known as M503, which Beijing altered on…

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