China Appears to Backtrack Over No-fly Zone Near Taiwan


Taipei says Beijing has confined flight ban north of island to 27 minutes on Sunday after initial three-day plan

China has appeared to backtrack after reports it was planning to declare a three-day no-fly zone in the airspace north of Taiwan next week, reducing the planned duration to just 27 minutes.

A spokesperson from Taiwan’s defence ministrytold a press conference the no-fly zone was about 85 nautical miles north of Taiwan, and they believed it could be related to aerospace activities, perhaps satellite launches.

According to Reuters, a senior Chinese official with direct knowledge of the matter said the flight ban would have a significant impact on air traffic, affecting 60-70% of flights between north-east and south-east Asia, as well as flights between Taiwan and South Korea, Japan and North America.

However, Taiwan’s transport ministry later said the no-fly zone would be confined to a short period on Sunday, after Taipei objected to the plans. It had originally been claimed that the no-fly zone would last from 16 to 18 April.

On Monday night China announced the end to several days of military drills, which had been launched in retaliation to Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, meeting the House Speaker, Kevin McCarthy, in the US last week.

Earlier on Wednesday, Tsai said her trip to the US showed the island’s commitment to defend democracy, as the Taiwanese military is expected to begin its own drills.

Tsai said it was critical for democracies to unite while faced with “continued authoritarian expansionism”.

“Through this trip we again sent a message to the international community that Taiwan is determined to safeguard freedom and democracy which won acknowledgment and support from our democratic partners,” she told visiting Canadian lawmakers at her office in Taipei.

China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has continued military activity around Taiwan, despite formally announcing an end to the military drills which ran from Saturday to Monday. Taiwan’s defence ministry said 35 PLA aircraft and eight vessels had been detected around Taiwan on Tuesday.

The drills prompted cross-party condemnation from Taiwan’s parliament, accusing China of undermining the status quo and causing a “severe threat to regional peace and security”.

Beijing remained defiant, declaring the exercises a successful demonstration. Xi Jinping, China’s leader, called on the armed forces “strengthen military training oriented towards actual combat” during a naval visit on Tuesday. Xi said that the military must “resolutely defend China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime interests, and strive to protect overall peripheral stability,” according to Chinese state media.

On Wednesday China’s Taiwan affairs office said the “countermeasures” to Tsai’s US trip were “a serious warning against collusion and provocation by Taiwan independence separatist forces with external forces”.

It claimed – without evidence – that Taiwan’s ruling party had bribed US legislators to oppose Beijing’s plan for what it calls “reunification”, and also took aim at the Taiwan government’s decision to ban TikTok from public sector devices.

The decision mirrors similar bans imposed from other governments around the world over national security concerns about the Chinese-owned platform.

China’s Taiwan affairs office spokesperson said Taiwan’s government wanted to cut off access to information, and would only hurt the rights and interests of Taiwan’s people.

The video-sharing app is the international version of a popular Chinese app, Douyin. TikTok is not available in China, where foreign social media platforms including Twitter and Facebook are banned. Other platforms, as well as news sites and search engines, are highly restricted or censored.

Military exercises by the Republic of China (Taiwan’s formal name) armed forces were scheduled to begin in the southern city of Taitung on Wednesday. Taiwan media had reported last week the drills were expected to practise defending against an amphibious invasion, on one of the few beaches in Taiwan where it is believed PLA forces could land.

It was not clear on Wednesday if those drills were still going ahead, and the defence ministry declined to answer questions.

In the early hours of Wednesday, residents on Taiwan’s west coast reported a large number of armoured vehicles travelling down Taiwan’s southern highway, towards the Hengchun peninsula, where there is a joint training base. Independent military observers said it was likely the beginning of a joint forces exercise.

It comes a day after the US and the Philippines launched their largest combat exercises in decades in waters across the South China Sea and the Taiwan strait.

Beijing continues to increase its military and diplomatic targeting of Taiwan, in its efforts to annex Taiwan as a Chinese province. Tsai says Taiwan’s future was up to the people to decide. Polling shows Taiwan’s people overwhelmingly reject the prospect of Chinese rule.

Beijing has not ruled out taking Taiwan by force, and is working to isolate Taiwan from the international community. Just 13 countries now recognise Taiwan as a country, after Honduras decided to switch ties to Beijing last month.

On Tuesday a Chinese delegation met officials in Honduras to negotiate new bilateral economic agreements, China’s foreign ministry said.

It said the talks aimed to “advance bilateral relations, especially on trade, agriculture, investment and exports for Honduran products and Chinese investors”, with a focus on Honduran exports of shrimp, lobster, melon, coffee and sea cucumber.

Source: The Guardian