Repeated violation of Taiwanese air space is a clear indication of the increasing military pressure that China is subjecting Taiwan to and the consequent escalation of tension between the two nations
|The Author is Former Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Training Command, IAF|
VIOLATION BY CHINA OF AIR SPACE OVER TAIWAN
As per reports emanating from Taiwan, on Monday October 4 this year, as many as 56 military aircraft of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) of the People’s Republic of China, intruded into the Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) of Taiwan. These aircraft transgressed into the air space belonging to Taiwan without due clearance from its Air Traffic Control, the agency that is responsible for the management of air traffic in the air space of Taiwan that is under its control. The fleet of intruding military aircraft of the PLAAF included combat jets, anti-submarine aircraft, airborne early warning and control system platforms as well as the H-6 nuclear capable bomber aircraft. Including the latest incursion by the 56 aircraft into the airspace of Taiwan in early October this year, the total number of aircraft of the PLAAF that have violated the airspace over Taiwan since January 2021 has reached a figure of 600 which is considerably higher than that for the previous year that stood at 380. This is a clear indication of the increasing military pressure that China is subjecting Taiwan to and the consequent escalation of tension between the two nations. Taiwan has described the latest incursion by the aircraft of the PLAAF into its air defence zone as being a blatant and irresponsible act of provocation. Taiwan went on to claim that the regime of Xi Jinping in China was engaging in “grey zone” warfare to systematically erode the capability of its forces, especially of the Air Force of Taiwan also known as the Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF). Founded in 1920, the ROCAF today has six tactical combat aircraft wings that are equipped with the F-16 Fighting Falcon supplied by Lockheed Martin Corporation of the US and the Mirage 2000 procured from Dassault Aviation of France. It also has one transport aircraft wing consisting of the C-130 Hercules four engine tactical transport aircraft again from Lockheed Martin of the US. It is not surprising therefore that the US is prepared to provide full military support to Taiwan in the event of an open conflict with China.
TURBULENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN TAIWAN AND CHINA
The history of relationship between China and Taiwan that goes back for several centuries, has been a turbulent one. There has always been disagreement between the ruling dispensation in China and Taiwan about the status of the latter. China regards Taiwan as a breakaway province which it has vowed to take over even by the use of military power if necessary. China considers Taiwan as an inalienable part of its territory and propagates the frequently stated “One China Policy” and is firmly opposed to Taiwan’s accession to any agreement or organisation of official nature with any other nation. China is always prepared to take all steps necessary to counter and neutralise any move that Taiwan makes towards gaining total independence from her.
The increased level of military activity in the region by China particularly over the last few months and the threat of invasion of Taiwan, has become a matter of global concern
On the other hand, both the political and military leadership in Taiwan have always maintained a position that Taiwan is clearly much more than a mere breakaway province and that it has always been and continues to be a sovereign state. Today, Taiwan has its own constitution, a government with democratically elected leaders and its own armed forces with over 3,00,000 active troops. However, its military power is no match against the domineering military giant in its neighbourhood, the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The increase in the level of military activity in the region by China particularly over the last few months and the threat of invasion of Taiwan by China, has indeed become a matter of global concern especially for the United States (US) that has expressed concern over the increasing incidents of violation of the air space over Taiwan by military aircraft of the PRC. The US sees the frequent and increasing violation of air space over Taiwan by the aircraft of the PLAAF as a factor the has the positional to destabilise the region. The US is also particularly concerned about the possibility of military miscalculation resulting in a wider and more intense conflict. On her part, China has attributed the escalation of tension with Taiwan to the warships of the US Navy sailing frequently across the Taiwan Strait. China has also expressed concerns over the continued supply of military hardware by the US to Taiwan.
There are analysts across the globe that have a somewhat different perspective of the aggressive aerial action displayed by China. Jacob Stokes, a fellow in the Indo-Pacific security programme at the Centre for a New American Security is of the view that the frequent aerial intrusions by aircraft of the PLAAF into the air space over Taiwan is a well thought out programme on the part of China that is meant to be carried out over months and years, with several interrelated goals. The first aim of China is to intimidate the government in Taiwan and re-enforce China’s claim over the tiny island state. The second objective of China is to get the personnel of their own military wing the requisite experience in conducting these types of operations by both day and night to enhance their overall capability in this domain. In other words, it is in fact only a sort of a military training programme. The third objective is to force Taiwan’s military to scramble aircraft in response to intruding Chinese aircraft and thereby subject the military air power of the latter to constant pressure and consequently wear out this segment of the military capability of the tiny neighbour Taiwan. According to Lionel Fatton from the Webster University in Switzerland who is regarded as an expert in Indo-Pacific affairs, China needs levers to deter Taiwan from taking an undesirable course of action such as a move to consolidate and strengthen her status as an independent state. As per Lionel Fatton, through its increasing number of military aviation flights into Taiwanese air space, China aims to deliver a clear message to Taiwan that it has the means and firepower to back up its military posture. Flights by the PLAAF aircraft into Taiwanese air space is a classic act of deterrence. Through the display of its aerial might, China aims to deter Taiwan from taking any action that will militate against the geopolitical interests of China.
INDIA’S RELATIONS WITH TAIWAN
China has been a major impediment for India in its desire or effort to establish any kind of healthy ties with Taiwan. However, as India’s relations with China having taken a nose dive since the clashes in the Galwan Valley of Eastern Ladakh last year, India is now looking at strengthening ties with Taiwan even though it does not have any formal diplomatic relations with this tiny nation. However, as a part of its Look East foreign policy, India has sought to cultivate extensive ties with Taiwan in trade and investment as well as developing cooperation in science and technology, environmental issues and people-to-people exchanges. Both sides have aimed to develop ties, partly to counteract Chinese rivalry with both the nations.
As it is not a healthy or desirable option for India to enter into any military collaboration with Taiwan, India can and is already embarked on engagement with Taiwan on the economic front. In the recent past, the Government of India led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has approved incentives for Taiwanese firms such as Foxconn Technology Group, Wistron and Pegatron Corporation for smart-phone production. However, India’s bilateral trade with Taiwan and investments in the country are yet extremely modest as compared to Taiwan’s trade ties with Japan and China. However, India has taken steps to improve relations with Taiwan despite being warned by China not to develop trade ties with Taiwan.