With record numbers of military flights near Taiwan over the last week, China has been showing a new intensity and military sophistication as it steps up its patrol of the island it claims as its own and asserts its territorial ambitions in the region.
China’s People’s Liberation Army flew 56 planes off the southwest coast of Taiwan on Monday, setting a new record and capping four days of sustained pressure involving 149 flights. All were in international airspace, but prompted Taiwanese defense forces to scramble in response and raised fears that any misstep could provoke an unintended escalation.
The sorties came as China, with growing diplomatic and military power, faces greater pushback from countries in the region and an increasing naval presence from the United States and other Western democracies in Asia as Taiwan pleads for more global support and recognition.
The U.S. called China’s latest actions “risky” and “destabilizing,” while China responded that the U.S. selling weapons to Taiwan and its ships navigating the Taiwan Strait were provocative. At the same time as the flights, the U.S. stepped up naval maneuvers in the Indo-Pacific with its allies, challenging Beijing’s territorial claims in critical waterways.
Taiwanese Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng told legislators Wednesday that the situation “is the most severe in the 40 years since I’ve enlisted.” While most agree that war is not imminent, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen warned that more is at stake if Beijing makes good on past threats to seize the island by force if necessary.
“If Taiwan were to fall, the consequences would be catastrophic for regional peace and the democratic alliance system,” she wrote in an impassioned op-ed in Foreign Affairs magazine published Tuesday. “It would signal that in today’s global contest of values, authoritarianism has the upper hand over democracy” (Klove).