On January 23, 2022, Taiwan reported a significant alleged incursion by the Chinese air force in its air defense zone. According to a Reuters report, this was the largest incursion by China’s air force since October.
Taiwan’s defense ministry said the island nation deployed several of its own fighters to chase off thirty-nine aircraft amid this latest rise in tensions.
For the past year, Taiwan has been critical of China’s air force missions taking place close to the island nation. Per the Reuters report, these missions were often carried out in the southwestern part of its air defense identification zone, or ADIZ, which is close to the Pratas Islands.
Since the foundation of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, the governing authorities in the Chinese mainland have claimed Taiwan as a part of China. This territorial dispute has been at the center of Taiwan-China tensions over the past seven decades.
Taiwan’s defense ministry described China’s provocative military exercises as “gray zone” warfare, stating in a report, “the PRC keeps expanding its military activities and conducting gray zone operations that cause serious impact on the regional peace and stability.” This unconventional use of force aims to exhaust Taiwanese forces by making them constantly scramble. Furthermore, these exercises aim to test Taiwan’s responses to China’s military maneuvers.
According to the Taiwanese Defense Ministry, the Chinese mission reportedly featured thirty-four fighters, four electronic warfare aircraft, and one bomber. The ministry reported that the aircraft flew in an area to the northeast of the Pratas.
Taiwan responded by sending combat aircraft to warn off the Chinese aircraft and deployed missile systems to monitor them.
Although there hasn’t been an officially publicized motive for China’s mission, the Reuters report observed that U.S. and Japanese naval forces have recently conducted exercises in the Philippine Sea.
On January 23, the U.S. Pacific Fleet said the exercises featured two carrier strike groups who conducted “training to preserve and protect a free and open Indo Pacific.”
Starting on October 1, Taiwan reported 148 Chinese air force planes allegedly entering the southern and southwestern parts of its air defense zone. Since then, Taiwan has documented repeated Chinese air force missions entering the same air space.
However, the number of Chinese planes that entered on January 23 was reportedly the largest single-day figure since the October operations began.
So far, neither of the two countries’ military forces has fired shots, and Chinese aircrafts have not flown into Taiwan’s air space. Instead, they have apparently flown into Taiwan’s ADIZ, an area Taiwan closely monitors and patrols to buy more time to respond to any threats.
The Dallas Express reached out to Artyom Lukin, the Deputy Director for Research at the School of Regional and International Studies for Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok, Russia, for his perspective on the recent developments between China and Taiwan.
“I would not call China’s posture toward Taiwan aggressive. At least, not yet,” Lukin commented. He added, “I think it is quite natural that, as China’s military capabilities grow, Beijing will be flexing its muscles more often — and not only toward Taiwan.”
The international relations scholar stressed that “China’s military demonstrations toward Taiwan may be partly a response to closer strategic-military ties developing between Taipei and Washington.”
According to a (translated) release from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs: on January 18, 2022, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Le Yucheng “delivered a special opening speech at the 2022 Macro Situation Annual Forum, … saying that Taiwan is not the territory of other countries, but China’s sacred territory. … Debatable sovereignty is the premise and starting point for discussing all Taiwan issues. The United States keeps insisting on the one-China policy, but in its actions it recklessly supports ‘Taiwan independence,’ continuously erodes China’s sovereignty, ‘steps on the red line,’ … sends military advisers to Taiwan, and transports advanced weapons to Taiwan. This is to create ‘two Chinas,’ [meaning] ‘one China,’ ‘one Taiwan.'”
Indeed, Lukin told The Dallas Express that “the more signals the U.S. sends it is ready to protect Taiwan, the more belligerent Beijing becomes.”
“On the issue of opposing ‘Taiwan independence’ and safeguarding ‘One China,’ China has no room for concessions and will not make any compromises. There is only one option for Taiwan’s future, and that is reunification. … China must be unified, and it is bound to be unified. This is an irresistible historical process. As President Xi Jinping pointed out, no one should underestimate the strong determination, firm will and strong ability of the Chinese people to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the January 18 release concluded.