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A nation must think before it acts.
Note: This analysis of air incursions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone is focused on the period from September 2020 to September 2021, while also accounting for the large-scale incursions between October 1-4, 2021. This article serves as an update to a previous article published in the Global Taiwan Brief in April 2021.
In September 2020, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) began publishing regular, detailed reports on Chinese military air incursions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ). People’s Republic of China (PRC) military flights into Taiwan’s ADIZ have continued for over one year, and the incursions have become a near-daily occurrence. Between September 17, 2020 and September 30, 2021, PRC military aircraft entered Taiwan’s ADIZ on nearly 250 days. Almost all of these incursions took place in the southwestern part of the ADIZ near Taiwan-held Dongsha Island (東沙島) in the South China Sea; only a few occurred in the Taiwan Strait proper. Many of the larger-scale incursions were preceded by some development related either to US-Taiwan relations or Taiwan’s international space.
The significant escalation in incursions in early October 2021 has demonstrated how Chinese intimidation of Taiwan continues to change the status quo between Beijing and Taipei. In the first four days of October—including the PRC’s October 1 National Day holiday—almost 150 aircraft breached Taiwan’s ADIZ, a higher count than the entire month of September. During the second incursion on October 4, 34 J-16 fighter jets entered Taiwan’s ADIZ, which is more aircraft than the total number that breached the ADIZ in May, July, and August.
The most troubling aspect of the ADIZ incursions is that the Chinese military has grown more brazen since September 2020. Throughout 2021, the use of J-16 and J-10 fighter aircraft has increased, and they have now become a regular feature of the incursions. The flying of nuclear-capable bombers, such as the H-6K, is now also a normal occurrence in Taiwan’s southwestern ADIZ. Studying these incursions allows us to draw lessons moving forward about the defense of Taiwan, as well as patterns in Chinese military coercion directed against Taiwan.