China’s Military Planes Pass through the ADIZ of Taiwan and its Implications
Dr Ming-Shih Shen

Since last year China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) has been sending aircrafts to pass through the Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) of Taiwan. As of early October of this year, there have been more than 600 sorties of intrusions by Chinese military aircrafts based on the information from Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense. Not all of such intrusions were conducted by fighter jets: sometimes Chinese used slow-speed electric reconnaissance or anti-submarine aircrafts to cruise around ADIZ and stayed in the air for long time to avoid accusations from Taiwan. But such military provocations still have serious consequences on Taiwan’s air defense.

The United States, Australia and other countries have all condemned China's military adventurism in the Taiwan Strait. When China’s military aircrafts patrols becomes routine, the integrity of Taiwan’s ADIZ, which has been maintained for decades, will be destroyed. We believe such intrusions have highlighted some critical issues of Taiwan’s air defense combat capabilities, which deserves more in-depth discussions.

First of all, the intent of PLAAF is to enter Taiwan’s ADIZ from different angles so as to show to the US and Taiwan that China is capable of converting similar flight actions into actual aerial attacks. Since such provocations have become more common, the numbers and frequency of Taiwanese jet fighters scrambling to conduct monitoring or expulsion actions are also increasing. This has made the neighbouring states to start concerning the possibility of a real military clash between both sides.

Secondly, intrusions of Chinese military aircrafts in Taiwan’s ADIZ at a large scale will undermine the middle line of the Taiwan Strait, turning the Strait into the inner sea of China. It will not only upgrade China’s military threat against Taiwan, but also acquire a new reasonable excuse of denying foreign warships or aircrafts to enter the Taiwan Strait as well as the South China Sea. Moreover, the purpose of such actions is perhaps to fatigue Taiwan Air Force, forcing the latter to increase maintenance costs for its fighter jets and relax the air defense combat readiness. The most obvious cost is fuel consumption of Taiwan’s fighter jets, but more important are the fees for mechanical maintenance and training or sacrifice of jet pilots and of Taiwan’s Air Force.

In addition to undermining the legitimacy of Taiwan’s ADIZ, PLAAF’s intrusions into the airspace of southwest Taiwan is also meant to prevent the U.S. as well as Japanese navies from entering the South China Sea from the Taiwan Strait or the Bashi Channel. This is the so-called A2AD. If any military conflict erupts between China and other claimants of South China Sea, the United States can only intervene based on defense agreements, and the ships and aircrafts from the US must pass through both straits. By destroying Taiwan’s ADIZ China will have actual control of the Taiwan Strait and even the Bashi Strait.

In fact, the western half of Taiwan’s ADIZ is in the Fujian Province of China. But since 2020, the training and air reconnaissance actions of Taiwan’s Air Force have never crossed the middle line of the Strait. This means China has already altered the status quo as well as the scope of Taiwan’s ADIZ without consulting with Taiwan. Taiwan’s military aircrafts or air defense system did not actually intercept or intervene because the end part of the Strait middle line does not actually connect the end boundary line of ADIZ. If we see Chinese encroachment of Taiwan’s ADIZ as the early sign of warning, then PLAAF’s acquisition of Fujian airspace can be interpreted as China’s unilateral altering of Taiwan’s ADIZ. But if Taiwan also accepts China’s unilateral actions on Taiwan’s ADIZ and retreats from the Strait middle line, it will be difficult to refute the claim from China that the Taiwan Strait middle line does not exist. Under these circumstances, we believe China will send more military aircrafts to cross the Strait middle line and intrude into Taiwan’s ADIZ more frequently in future, and the early warning function of the ADIZ will fail.

As for now, PLAAF has shown no sign of easing its military intimidation against Taiwan. Taiwan should strengthen relevant actions in combat readiness training, especially in air defense. It is also necessary to clarify the middle line of the Strait and combine it with ADIZ. That should be used as a benchmark. Taiwan also needs to announce the new area of ADIZ to the international community to counter the China’s unreasonable and unilateral claims. In addition to continue improving the actual air defense capabilities, Taiwan should also exchange air information and images with neighbouring countries, and consult with them about clearly delineating the areas of responsibilities of surrounding airspace. This will further ensure the security of Taiwan’s air defense.

Facing China’s military expansion and provocations, Taiwan will continue to strengthen and modernize air defense capabilities, and improve the asymmetrical warfare capabilities. In terms of personnel training, in order to improve the quality of military personnel, it is also necessary to strengthen the reserve mobilization system and enhance the capabilities of defense operations. As a peace loving country, Taiwan will always conduct prudently, and will not launch provocative actions against China. But if China invades Taiwan or any islet under Taiwan control, Taiwan is already well prepared to fight back. Taiwan and the neighbouring countries will not sit back and see China change the status quo unilaterally.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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