Taiwan tensions are symbolic of China’s growing assertiveness

China's incursions into Taiwanese air defense zone are symbolic of the direction the world is heading: China will be more assertive and to work closely with others that want to challenge the West.

Performers travel past Tiananmen Square next to a float showing late Chinese chairman Mao Zedong during the parade marking the 70th founding anniversary of People's Republic of China, on its National Day in Beijing, China October 1, 2019 (photo credit: REUTERS/JASON LEE)
Performers travel past Tiananmen Square next to a float showing late Chinese chairman Mao Zedong during the parade marking the 70th founding anniversary of People's Republic of China, on its National Day in Beijing, China October 1, 2019
(photo credit: REUTERS/JASON LEE)

Media reports continue to highlight what Taiwan has said are Chinese warplanes making incursions into its air defense identification zone, according to reports at CNN and other media.

What is important here is that the incursions are symbolic of the direction the world is heading: China will be more assertive and it will work more closely with other countries that are also being assertive, such as Russia, Iran, Turkey and other states that want to challenge the West. 

The recent news related to 56 Chinese warplanes, including 38 J-16 fighters, 12 H-6 bombers and two Su-30 fighters, well as anti-submarine warfare planes and two large KJ-500 early warning planes. CNN says that the last major incident involved 39 Chinese planes on Saturday. According to FoxNews, the overall number over four days was 149 aircraft. These included planes that flew on Friday including 18 J-16s and four SU-30s as well as H-6 bombers.  

The pattern of “largest incursion” is now becoming clear. Back in March, Taiwan also reported the “largest ever incursion by the Chinese air force.” That included twenty aircraft.

Reuters reported that “some of the Chinese aircraft flew in the airspace to the south of Taiwan and passed through the Bashi Channel, which separates the island from the Philippines, Taiwan’s defense ministry said in a statement. The presence of so many Chinese combat aircraft on Friday’s mission - Taiwan said it was made up of four nuclear-capable H-6K bombers and 10 J-16 fighter jets, among others - was unusual and came as the island’s air force suspended all training missions after two fighter jet crashes this week.” 

A RF-16 fighter jet drops flares during the live fire Han Kuang military exercise, which simulates China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) invading the island, in Pingtung, Taiwan May 30, 2019. (credit: REUTERS/TYRONE SIU)A RF-16 fighter jet drops flares during the live fire Han Kuang military exercise, which simulates China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) invading the island, in Pingtung, Taiwan May 30, 2019. (credit: REUTERS/TYRONE SIU)

Last September, Taiwan also said that Beijing sent 18 planes, most of the fighter jets, into its air defense zone. “China’s military sent 18 planes including fighter jets over the Taiwan Strait in an unusually large show of force Friday as a US envoy held a day of closed-door meetings on the self-governing island claimed by China,” said Politico.  

LAST MONTH, China also flew 24 jets near Taiwan. The report at the time said that “China's People's Liberation Army flew fighter jets toward Taiwan twice on Thursday: once in the morning with 19 planes, and once in the afternoon with five more. Taiwan deployed air patrol forces in response to the Chinese jets and tracked them on its air defense systems, the island’s Defense Ministry said in a statement. The jets in the morning flight, some of which flew in a long L-shaped path, were 12 J-16 and two J-11s, as well as bombers and an anti-submarine aircraft. Later in the day, China sent 2 J-16 and J-11 planes as well as an early warning aircraft,” according to Asahi news. 

The pattern is clear. There were incidents in June and March. In mid-September, Global Times in China said that Chinese warplanes would eventually patrol over Taiwan. “Sending PLA fighter jets over the island of Taiwan is a step we must take. The move will pose a fundamental warning to the Taiwan authorities and bring about the reconstruction of the situation across the Taiwan Straits. It will be a clear declaration of China's sovereignty over Taiwan island and create unprecedented conditions for us to further implement this sovereignty. The ‘airspace’ over the Taiwan island belongs to the airspace of China.” 

The editorial at Global Times lays out what may happen next. “The mainland fighter jets' flight over the Taiwan island must be backed by large-scale and overwhelming military preparedness. Fighters flying over the Taiwan Straits is only a part of the Chinese mainland's determination to reset the situation across the Straits. This will be a showdown that gives the [Taiwan] DPP authority two choices: Either accept the patrol and refrain from the extreme anti-mainland line of colluding with the US and Japan, or start a war by firing at military aircraft of the Chinese mainland and face the consequence of being destroyed and eliminated by the PLA.” 

CHINA’S INCREASING assertiveness with its air force is part of its growing clout at sea as well. It is rapidly increasing its navy. This has led the US to conclude that it must also increase its naval power. The US, UK and Australia have signed on to a new pact. But it’s not clear if the US is a bit late to the struggle.

China has showcased its willingness to put assets on small islands that it claims and achieve dominance at sea. Its use of airpower near Taiwan began with more than a dozen jets and now has vastly increased. In addition, the types of jets being used have increased. China also uses the airpower as a diplomatic full-court press related to visits by a US envoy or to other decisions Taiwan may make.  

The UK sent a warship through the TaiwanStrait in late September. It may be that the recent air force incursion is related to that warship’s progress. It should be noted in this context that on October 4, reports at the US Naval Institute USNI News said that “two US carrier strike groups drilled with the United Kingdom’s Carrier Strike Group 21 (CSG21) and a Japanese big-deck warship over the weekend in a major naval exercise in the waters off the southeast of Okinawa, Japan. The exercise involved six different navies – the US Navy, the UK Royal Navy, the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, the Royal Netherlands Navy, the Royal Canadian Navy and the Royal New Zealand Navy – making up a total of 17 surface ships, which included four aircraft carriers.” 

Stars and Stripes connected this to Taiwan tensions. These 17 ships and three aircraft carriers are clearly a big armada at sea. USS Ronald Reagan, fresh off its deployment to the Middle East, met the USS Carl Vinson and HMS Queen Elizabeth on Saturday southwest of Okinawa, the report said. Overall, these ships could have some 250 aircraft and helicopters on board. That means that this armada of ships could pack as much air power as most of the Taiwan air force combined. China’s air force has more than 2,000 aircraft, making it the world’s third-largest air force.