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China’s Unilateral Adjustment of flight routes in the Taiwan Strait: Issues and Complexities ; By Richard Chen

Director-General, Taipei Economic and Cultural Center in Chennai (TECC)

Image Courtesy: BusinessWorldOnline

Article: 10/2024

On January 30, 2024, without prior consultations with Taiwan in accordance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) regulations, China’s civil aviation authority unilaterally announced the cancelation of the westward offset of flights on the M503 southbound route and activation of the W122 and W123 eastbound routes. Aircraft flying in either direction on these routes that encounter poor weather or operational abnormalities could enter Taiwan’s airspace and cross paths with other flights, significantly increasing aviation safety risks. This not only seriously jeopardizes aviation safety, peace, and stability in the region but also undermines mutual trust and the status quo across the Taiwan Strait.

In January 2015, China issued a notice to airmen (NOTAM) announcing the new M503, W121, W122, and W123 routes. These routes are a short distance from the Taipei Flight Information Region (FIR) and could interfere with routes serving Kinmen and Matsu, Taiwan’s offshore islands. Taiwan demanded consultations with China and, following cross-strait communication and coordination, the two sides agreed that traffic on M503 would, in practice, fly six nautical miles to the west of the route; M503 would be a unidirectional southbound route; all aircraft would fly westward in emergency situations; M503 would be activated on March 29, 2015; and the other three routes—W121, W122, and W123—would not be activated or implemented until a later date, after a consensus was reached through cross-strain dialogue.

Section 4.2.6 of ICAO’s Air Traffic Services Planning Manual stipulates that changes to any route network should be made only after they have been coordinated with all parties concerned. Taiwan’s Civil Aviation Administration is the sole competent authority for the Taipei Flight Information Region, which lies next to the M503 route. China’s announcement changing a related route network without prior consultations with Taiwan constitutes a serious violation of ICAO regulations and underscores China’s irresponsible authoritarian nature.

This heavy-handed and unreasonable act by China, as well as its virtually daily flying of surveillance balloons into Taiwan’s airspace since Taiwan’s presidential election, have gravely impacted regional aviation safety and cross-strait peace and stability, signifying a change to the status quo across the Taiwan Strait. The international community should pay due attention to this matter and jointly demand that China promptly negotiate with Taiwan on the activation of these new flight routes.

On the other hand, China continues to provoke and intimidate Taiwan, Japan, and other neighboring countries by dispatching military aircraft and vessels in the Taiwan Strait and the East and South China Seas. It is trying to break through the first island chain, project power into the Pacific, and escalate tensions across the Taiwan Strait and in the region.

These attempts demonstrate that China’s authoritarian expansionist ambitions are not confined to Taiwan, but extend to exerting its influence worldwide and changing the rules-based international order. The Taiwan Strait situation is therefore intrinsically linked to global security.

Taiwan has the advantage of being a leader in the high-tech sector, especially in semiconductors. It forms a vital part of global supply chains, producing 60 percent of the world’s chips and 92 percent of the most advanced ones. Taiwan’s semiconductor industry plays a key role in the global supply chains. Plus, half of the world’s commercial container traffic passes through the Taiwan Strait each day. Any conflict in the area would have disastrous consequences for the global economy.

China’s frequent use of military and economic tactics to intimidate Taiwan and other neighboring countries in recently years has posed a formidable threat and challenge to security across the Taiwan Strait, in Indo-Pacific region and the world. The preservation of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait is a matter of international consensus. It is also central to the Indo-Pacific strategies of democratic countries. Taiwan has emerged as a global security issue and cross-strait peace has become a focus of international attention. Ensuring peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait is in everyone’s best interest.

So far, the US-South Korea, US-Canada, US-Japan, UK-France, EU-Japan, G7, NATO, and other bilateral and multilateral summits have one after another expressed support for peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. Countries including the United States, France, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Czech Republic, and Lithuania, as well as the European Union have all underscored the need to maintain peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific in their regional strategies.

Click here to read the NOTAM

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(The Author is the Director General of Taipei Economic and Cultural Center in Chennai (TECC). The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of C3S.)

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