TAIPEI: Chinese warplane incursions into Taiwan’s air defense zone are set to nearly double in 2022, with an increase in fighter jets and bombers as Beijing steps up threats to the Taiwan’s democracy.
Self-governing Taiwan lives under the constant threat of invasion. Communist Party rulers claim the island as part of Chinese territory and have vowed to seize it one day.
Relations have been icy for years under President Xi Jinping, China’s most assertive leader in a generation.
But there was a deeper deterioration in 2022, when Si’s military stepped up raids and launched the biggest war games in decades to protest a visit by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in August.
China sent 1,727 aircraft into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in 2022, according to an AFP database based on daily updates issued by Taipei’s Ministry of Defense.
This compares to around 960 invasions in 2021 and 380 in 2020.
Fighter sorties more than doubled from 538 in 2021 to 1,241, while bomber sorties, including nuclear-powered H6s, increased from 60 to 101.
Last year also saw the first drone invasions, with all 71 reported by Taiwan’s military coming after Pelosi’s visit.
Military analysts say China has used the raids to probe Taiwan’s defenses, deplete its aging air force and express displeasure about Western support for Taipei, particularly the United States.
“They want to show their determination, their will and make the United States: don’t get too close to their red lines, don’t cross their red lines,” said Lee Hsi-min, Taiwan’s former chief of staff. AFP.
The United States recognizes China over Taiwan diplomatically, but remains Taiwan’s most important ally.
It opposes any forced change in Taiwan’s status and is bound by an act of Congress to supply the island with the means to defend itself.
Support for Taiwan is a rare issue of bipartisan consensus in Washington, and there is growing concern that China might resort to a military solution, a fear exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Washington maintains a policy of “strategic ambiguity” toward Taiwan and has deliberately not made any firm commitments about whether it will defend itself.
The aim of this strategy was to make Beijing think twice about the cost of any invasion, as well as to discourage Taiwan from formally declaring independence.
US President Joe Biden has been mercurial on the issue of strategic ambiguity.
He repeatedly stated that US troops would come to Taiwan’s aid in the event of a Chinese invasion, only for the White House to retract his comments.
China has used warplane incursions to express its displeasure with specific events.
It sent 71 warplanes to conduct a “strike exercise” on December 25 in response to what it described as “escalating collusion and provocations” by Washington and Taipei.
This came days after Biden signed up to $10 billion in military aid to Taiwan.
August saw a record 440 sorties by Chinese warplanes, the same month Pelosi became the highest-ranking US lawmaker to visit Taiwan in 25 years.
“The more frequent sorties are worrying and force the Taiwanese side to be on constant alert to ensure that the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) does not use them as cover for an attack against Taiwan,” a Taipei-based political and military analyst said. J Michael Cole told AFP.
However, he also said the increase in invasions “doesn’t mean (China) is ready to use force against Taiwan sooner – at least not an invasion scenario that would require months of mobilization”.
Many nations maintain air defense identification zones, including the United States, Canada, South Korea, Japan, and China, which are not identical to that country’s airspace.
Instead, they include a much wider area in which any foreign aircraft is expected to report to local aviation authorities.
Analysts say China’s increased exploration of Taiwan’s Defense Zone is part of a broader “grey zone” tactic that keeps the island under pressure.
“The PRC (People’s Republic of China) is launching a war of attrition against the Taiwanese military,” said Richard Hu, deputy director of the National Chengchi University’s Taiwan Center for Security Studies.
While China intends to gather key intelligence and “readiness parameters,” such as how quickly and from where Taiwan is being eavesdropped, an invasion remains an extremely risky and costly endeavor.
The mountainous island would pose a formidable challenge for any army to conquer.
“When it comes to conquering Taiwan by force, the PRC still faces a number of major problems, such as sending hundreds of thousands of troops across the Taiwan Strait,” said Hu, a retired army general.