Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Assessing the Patterns of PLA Air Incursions into Taiwan’s ADIZ

Assessing the Patterns of PLA Air Incursions into Taiwan’s ADIZ

Global Taiwan Brief, vol. 6, issue 7

In recent months, Chinese government state media outlets have frequently issued warnings to so-called “secessionist forces” allegedly stirring up trouble in Taipei, or to officials in Washington not to overstep Chinese government “red lines” when it comes to Taiwan. On March 8, at the 13th National People’s Congress, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (王毅) promised, “The two sides of the Taiwan Strait must be and will surely be reunified […] We have the capability to thwart separatist attempts for ‘Taiwan independence’ in whatever form.” Indeed, recent history has shown that whenever Washington acts to increase cooperation or support for Taiwan, Beijing shifts the cost onto Taipei—whether through economic pressure and boycotts or military threats and incursions. The pattern has become predictable, and for Taiwan, costly in a financial sense, especially in regard to the significant uptick in military incursions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ).

In September 2020, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND, 中華民國國防部) began issuing public notices on incursions into the airspace around Taiwan by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The decision was likely made in response to a rapid increase in PLA military incursions into Taiwan’s ADIZ. By October 2020, Taiwan’s then-Minister of National Defense Yen Teh-fa (嚴德發) stated that the PLA had conducted over 1,700 sorties into the ADIZ. The Taiwanese military response cost USD $1.09 billion (nearly 9 percent of the defense budget). In light of this, it is no wonder that the MND began to publicize these incursions: They serve as an effective demonstration of the consistent military threat that Taiwan must address daily.

The MND reports list the types and number of aircraft used in the operations, the area(s) of incursion, and the MND’s response. They also provide a map showing the flight paths, as well as photos of the PLA aircraft (see examples in the accompanying images). Between September 16, 2020 and March 30, 2021, the MND reported 135 incursions. The incursions occurred primarily in Taiwan’s southwestern ADIZ, near Pratas/Dongsha Island (東沙島), a contested island in the South China Sea that is occupied by the Taiwanese military. Only two incursions took place in the Taiwan Strait proper, on September 18 and 19, since the MND began releasing reports.

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