What is happening?
Last week, China sent around 150 fighter jets to Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in a massive escalation of its military activity directed at the island. Over the past two years, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has increased its activity, with almost daily outings in the ADIZ and frequent military exercises in neighboring sea areas.
The exit monitoring data shows a change in the composition of the PLA air force’s missions. While surveillance planes were the most frequently sent, the balance is now tilted to see fighter planes dominate. The use of bombers, capable of carrying nuclear weapons, has also increased.
Speculation is growing China will try to mount an invasion. Estimates range from a few years to a few decades.
The Taiwanese defense minister said on Wednesday that China is now capable, but that by 2025 it would be much better able to launch a “full-scale invasion.”
What does China want?
Beijing claims Taiwan as the province of China. Unification is a key objective of Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who has not ruled out taking Taiwan by force. Beijing views Taiwan’s democratically elected government as separatist, but the island’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, said Taiwan is already a sovereign country that does not need to declare independence.
Taiwan holds democratic elections, has a free media, its own army and its own currency. It has enjoyed de facto independence since the end of the Civil War in 1949, when the losing Kuomintang faction fled to the island. The Chinese Communist Party has never ruled Taiwan.
Few countries recognize the government of Taiwan, many having transferred their formal ties with Beijing from the 1970s. Beijing’s “One China Principle” officially declares its claim to Taiwan, and several other nations have their own policies ” of one China ”, which define the level of recognition that their governments give to Beijing’s policies. The United States and Australia, for example, recognize but do not recognize Beijing’s claim on Taiwan.
Large-scale activities are often tied to specific events – Friday marked China’s Patriotic Day, National Day – or signaled Beijing’s grievances with a recent incident. After the United States condemned the incursions of 38 planes on Friday and 39 on Saturday, China sent 56 planes to ADIZ on Monday.
Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia program at the German Marshall Fund, said the flights were increasingly used for training, but also “to signal the United States and Taiwan not to cross the Chinese red lines.”
“And stress the Taiwan Air Force, force them to scramble, stress the plane, the pilots, force them to do more maintenance and test the responses of the Taiwan air defense system. . “
What is the difference between ADIZ and airspace?
There has been a lot of confusion over the area in which Chinese fighter jets fly. They do not enter Taiwan’s internationally recognized airspace, which would constitute an important and hostile act. Under international law, a state has sovereignty over the air over its land and sea territory.
Not all states have declared ADIZ, which are large areas extending beyond airspace and monitored for defense purposes. Governments require incoming aircraft to give advance notice. The APL does not.
Taiwan’s ADIZ covers parts of the Chinese mainland, but Taiwan does not report “incursions” until the planes cross the Taiwanese side of the center line.
How is the world reacting?
The international community increasingly condemns China’s belligerence towards Taiwan. Major changes in US relations with Taiwan and China began under Donald Trump and his Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo. The Biden administration has pledged to maintain a hard line on China and a “rock solid” commitment to Taiwan, but has also demonstrated that it is a multilateral effort.
This week, the United States accused Beijing of “provocative military activity” which was “destabilizing, risking miscalculations and undermining regional peace.”
Last month, the US, UK and Australia announced a new security partnership, Aukus, aimed at countering China’s actions in the Indo-Pacific. This raised questions for the British Prime Minister over whether the country could be drawn into a war with Taiwan, which he did not rule out.
The United States maintains a policy of strategic ambiguity in an attempt to deter action on either side.
In April, the EU jointly declared that tensions in the South China Sea threatened regional stability, while French warships participated in joint exercises with the United States and Japan, and that Germany had recently sent a warship for the first time in two decades.
How is Taiwan reacting?
On Tuesday, President Tsai wrote that Taiwan would not be “adventurers” but would “do whatever it takes” to defend itself, and warned that the fall of Taiwan would have “catastrophic consequences” for the region.
The island’s premier, Su Tseng-chan, said Taiwan “must be on the alert” to China’s behavior.
“The world has also witnessed the repeated violations of regional peace and the pressure exerted by China on Taiwan,” he said, adding that Taiwan needs to “strengthen itself” and come together. “Only then will countries that want to annex Taiwan not dare to easily resort to force.”
Taiwan is largely overtaken by the Chinese military. The government buys weapons from the United States, but defense analyst Dr Si-fu Ou said there is a lag of several years while Taiwan builds the necessary infrastructure.
Taiwan has also been pushing for intelligence and logistical support from other countries.
Taiwan is deepening its relations with governments such as the US, EU, Australia, Japan and India (although they are not yet proposing to reestablish ties), and underlines its importance in the global economy, especially as a leading supplier of semiconductors – the chips that run the world.
How do Taiwanese feel?
On Tuesday, residents of Taipei woke up to the sound of fighter jets over the city. It was a Taiwan Air Force rehearsal for the upcoming Taiwan National Day, but those who didn’t know were shaken. People talk about the Chinese threat at school, at family dinners, and at gatherings of friends. The Ministry of Defense Twitter account is now part of the daily news feed.
A number of analysts the Guardian spoke to said there was a glaring lack of attention to how Taiwanese view the situation and how they would be affected.
“In all the talk about hot spots, war and US-China competition, we rarely hear about the stories and hopes of 24 million people who live in a peaceful democracy,” said Natasha Kassam, Chinese analyst. at the Lowy Institute.
An April poll showed that around 40% of people believed Taiwan and China were headed for military conflict, but that figure is on the rise. Another survey this year found that 50% of people fear war will break out in the coming year.
Although there are diverse and complicated political views in Taiwan, a separate poll last October found that 77.6% of people were ready to fight in the event of a Chinese invasion. Other studies have found that most support diplomatic efforts.
Over 75% of Taiwanese consider themselves Taiwanese while 7% consider themselves Chinese.
In the meantime, life goes on. Taiwanese grew up through martial law, war, or family memories. Drills and military exercises are part of everyday life. The Taipei metro is packed at rush hour every day and karaoke rooms were in full swing the night China sent its 56th plane of the day. But fears are growing.