EXPLANATION: How China Flights Stoke Tensions near Taiwan

Updated 26 minutes ago

BANGKOK (AP) – A recent spate of Chinese military flights off southwestern Taiwan has alarmed what Beijing calls its own island and heightened tensions in an already marginal region.

The flights are part of a complex puzzle in Asia, where the United States and its allies have stepped up their naval maneuvers and Australia announced last month it would acquire nuclear-powered submarines, which are seen as a direct challenge to Beijing. Meanwhile, Japan has been talking louder and louder about China becoming a security threat.

Experts agree that armed conflict is not imminent, but as military activity increases, fears grow that a mishap or misjudgment could lead to an unintended escalation. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres last month urged Beijing and Washington to repair their “completely dysfunctional” relationship, saying: “We must avoid a cold war at all costs.”

Here are some of the problems in the game:


China presents its military profile as purely defensive, designed to protect its sovereign rights from Taiwan to the South China Sea and its long, disputed mountain border with India. The US and many of China’s neighbors view this stance as aggressive and have stepped up their own presence in hopes of stopping China’s efforts to invariably change the facts on the ground.

After years of rising military spending, China now has the second largest defense budget in the world after the United States, which this year will amount to around $ 209 billion. This has enabled the development of advanced weapon systems, including the J-20 stealth fighter, hypersonic missiles, and two aircraft carriers, with a third under construction.

President Xi Jinping, also the commander of the People’s Liberation Army, has overseen the construction of military facilities on man-made islands in the South China Sea to expand China’s territorial waters, and stated that it cannot be left to the next generation to control Taiwan. His threats to the self-governing island democracy were compounded by military exercises along the coast across from Taiwan and large numbers of Chinese fighter jets flying into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, including a one-day record of 56 on Monday, a total of 149 flights over a period of four days.

Xi will give a speech on the Saturday before National Day in Taiwan. The unusually high profile address is carefully monitored for signs of contact with the Taiwanese public or hardening of China’s lineage.


The USA, with bases in Japan, South Korea and Guam, has a large military presence in the region and is pursuing a “pivot point” towards the Indo-Pacific to counter China’s increasingly self-confident stance.

In a speech this week, Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro told the cadets that China will be the “challenge that will shape your career in the Navy.” to control international waters as its own. “

“Our job is to keep the peace by ensuring that the People’s Republic of China does not gain military influence over the United States or our allies and partners,” he said.

To this end, the US regularly conducts exercises in the region with several allies, including recently one with 17 ships from six countries, which took place northeast of Taiwan off the Japanese island of Okinawa at the same time as the Chinese flights south of Taiwan.

Washington’s longstanding policy has been to provide political and military support to Taiwan without making explicit promises to defend it from Chinese attack.

Although the US has no bases in Taiwan, American officials confirmed this week that special forces have trained with the Taiwanese military for more than a year, including sea operations with naval commandos in recent weeks.

US military assistance to Taiwan “is based on an assessment of Taiwan’s defense needs and threats from China,” said Pentagon spokesman John Supple.

Last month before the UN General Assembly, US President Joe Biden made no mention of China by name, but stressed that the US would “stand up for our allies and friends and oppose attempts by stronger countries to dominate weaker countries.”


The main concern of Taiwan is to consolidate its de facto independent status while maintaining economic ties with China and avoiding a military clash.

While Taipei and Washington have not had formal diplomatic relations since the US switched relations with Beijing in 1979, US law requires Washington to assist Taiwan in maintaining its defensive capabilities and treat threats to the island as “serious concerns”. This included sales of advanced radar systems, fighter jets, and warships that angered China.

In addition to buying weapons from the US, President Tsai Ing-wen has boosted the domestic military industry, particularly the development of submarines, which are seen as critical to defense but which Taiwan was unable to buy from abroad due to Chinese pressure. Taiwan will display some of its weapons on Sunday in the first National Day military parade since Tsai took office in 2016.

Taiwan is also resisting a Chinese campaign to diplomatically isolate it, receiving U.S. officials on recent visits and this week a delegation of French senators and former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who accused China of being a tyrant and enthusiastic Taiwan’s government assisted Amid a sharp downturn in Beijing-Canberra relations.


Australia made a strong statement last month when it announced it would scrap a $ 66 billion deal with France for diesel-powered submarines in favor of a new pact with the US and UK on nuclear submarines.

The decision was seen as doubling the alliance between Australia and the US at a time when China is pressuring Australia with tariffs and import bans. Beijing criticized the agreement that the US and UK would help Australia build at least eight submarines, calling it “highly irresponsible” and saying it would “seriously damage peace and stability in the region”.

The leaders of Australia, the United States, Japan and India – a group known as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue – met in Washington shortly after the announcement of the submarine deal for extensive talks, which included discussions on how to do it Indo-Pacific can be kept “free and open”. ”

India has joined regional maneuvers and sent ships across the South China Sea to participate in exercises with the US, Japan and Australia off Guam in August, the purpose of which was to show New Delhi a “commitment to maritime freedom”.

China and India are embroiled in a land border dispute that led to clashes this year and last. India is also concerned about the increasing presence in the Indian Ocean of Chinese research vessels and fishing trawlers, which are allowed under international law but are suspected of collecting data for military purposes.

Japan has long been reluctant in its relations with China, a major trading partner, but increasingly views the country as a security threat. New Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said dialogue with China is important, but Japan should also join forces with like-minded democracies and strengthen its security alliance with the US and other partners.


Britain has been among the most active in the region of late, combining improved diplomatic reach with sending a porter strike group on a 28-week deployment to pursue a “tilt” towards the Indo-Pacific that was recommended by a British government defense and foreign policy.

As a sea-trading nation, Britain has emphasized the need to keep commercial shipping lanes clear and is using its naval presence to bolster established international routes such as cross-strait frigate HMS Richmond, which China calls “a meaningless display of presence with insidious intent.” . “

Last month the European Union presented its own strategy for strengthening political and defense ties in the Indo-Pacific, emphasizing the need for a dialogue with Beijing, but at the same time proposing an increased naval presence and greater security cooperation with regional partners.

France has sent naval ships to the region on a regular basis, and currently both the Netherlands and Germany have ships participating in ongoing exercises with the US and other navies. The broad spectrum of forces involved is not only an enhancement of the military presence, but also a way to counter the Chinese position in responding to unilateral American actions.

In his speech, US Secretary of the Navy Del Toro said there was “no substitute for the shared experience of allies working together to deter our adversaries.”

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