China doubles military flights around Taiwan
The number of Chinese fighter jet incursions into the skies around Taiwan nearly doubled in 2022, more than quadrupling in just two years, according to an open source database.
Chinese military aircraft, mostly fighter jets, were detected in the island’s Air Defense Identification Zone, east of the centerline of the Taiwan Strait, 1,737 times in 2022, compared to 972 in the previous 12 months, according to statistics compiled by US analysts Gerald Brown. and Ben Lewis revealed.
Taiwan, like China, maintains an ADIZ beyond its territorial airspace. This acts as a buffer zone for incoming civilian and military aircraft, which are expected to identify each other for national security reasons. An ADIZ is considered international airspace.
The median line is an unofficial barrier that has subdued hostilities across the strait since the early years of the Cold War. American defense planners obtained a tacit agreement from Taipei and Beijing to respect the border in the 1950s.
China claims Taiwan as its own, although Taipei rejects Beijing’s sovereignty claims. Today, a much more powerful China no longer recognizes the existence of the middle line and wants to push the US and allied military out of the region.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense began tracking and publishing an increase in Chinese sorties around the island in September 2020, shortly after the Trump administration sent the first US Cabinet officials to visit the island. in four decades. There were about 380 Chinese military flights that year, according to Taiwan estimates.
The Brown and Lewis database also showed an increase in the frequency of sorties, with Chinese planes operating in airspace off the coast of Taiwan for 268 days, up from 240 days in 2021.
In 2022, Chinese People’s Liberation Army fast jets led the frequent incursions into the Taiwan Defense Zone with 1,197 sorties, more than double the 531 of the previous 12 months. Beijing’s nuclear-capable heavy bombers have also been deployed 101 times, down from 60 in 2021, the figures show.
Previously, rare midline crossings by Chinese air assets have occurred 564 times in 2022, all but one after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s historic visit to Taipei in August. The Taiwanese government reported no median line crossings in 2021.
China’s frequent incursions serve several purposes. Operationally, they give Chinese pilots the opportunity to familiarize themselves with their aircraft in a likely theater of war, while exhausting Taiwan’s own aging air defenses. Politically, Beijing uses this activity to erode the morale of the Taiwanese armed forces and public, and sends large numbers of aircraft to signal its dissatisfaction with the development of US-Taiwanese relations.
On Dec. 25, Chinese planes flew 47 sorties into Taiwan’s ADIZ, an apparent response to President Joe Biden’s signing of the National Defense Authorization Act, a massive spending bill that includes aid unprecedented security for Taipei.
For Taiwanese leaders, there is no easy answer to what has been described as China’s “grey zone” warfare – coercive activity outside of war.
Beijing spends about 13 times Taipei in defense on paper. Taiwan is increasing its military budget by 13.9% this year to $19 billion, or 2.4% of its GDP, but a third of the fund will go to personnel expenses, and about 15% has been earmarked for logistics and maintenance of equipment and the army. facilities.
For China, which spent an estimated $210 billion on defense in 2022, the political signal it receives could also see diminishing returns. The near-daily flights could have a numbing effect on the conscience of the Taiwanese public, similar to the decades-long threat to take the island by force if Taipei does not agree to a political union on Beijing’s terms.
Defense planners in Taipei and Washington, however, say Beijing has created a “new normal” around Taiwan with this activity, allowing it to frequent large areas of sea and air without retaliation.
Tan Kefei, spokesperson for China’s Defense Ministry, told a monthly press briefing in December that the incursions were aimed at “defending national sovereignty and territorial integrity against Taiwan separatist independence activities and the interference by outside forces”, an expression reserved for America.
The United States has no official relations with Taiwan, nor is it under an obligation to defend it, but China is already planning a US and allied intervention, analysts say. Biden has pledged to defend Taiwan on at least four occasions.
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