On Friday, September 18th, China sent 18 Chinese aircraft across the mid-line of the Taiwan Strait – an action perceived as a provocation by the Taiwanese government. The aircraft included two H-6 bombers, eight J-16 fighters, four J-10 fighters, and four J-11 fighters. Monday, Taiwan released a statement declaring its right to counterattack in the face of “harassment and threats” by the Chinese military.
China continues to claim Taiwan as its own territory, a claim denied by the sovereign democratic government of Taiwan. According to the History page of Taiwan.gov.tw, “The authorities in Beijing have never exercised sovereignty over Taiwan or other islands administered by the ROC (Republic of China).”
The Chinese Communist Party challenged the ROC in a full-scale civil war beginning in 1948. The ROC fled mainland China to Taiwan and took sovereign control over the island following the Battle of Kuningtou on Kinmen on October 25th of 1949. To this day, however, the now People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Chinese Communist Party refuse to acknowledge the sovereignty of Taiwan and claims it as a territory of China.
The aforementioned mid-line of the Taiwan Strait is just as contentious as the nature of Taiwan’s independence. PRC Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said that “The so-called mid-line of the [Taiwan] Strait does not exist,” as part of a statement to reporters in Beijing. He goes on to assert that Taiwan is “inseparable” from Chinese territory.
China has held large-scale drills near Taiwan multiple times this month, which Taiwan has referred to as a serious provocation. China’s reply has been that the drills are necessary to protect its supposed sovereignty over the region. DW.com reports Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang stating, “They are a reasonable, necessary action aimed at the current situation in the Taiwan Strait and protecting national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
The recent military activity appears to be in response to increased interactions between the U.S. and Taiwan. Referring to the recent visits to Taiwan by US Under Secretary for Economic Affairs Keith Krach and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar. Ren Guoqiang warns that “Those who play with fire will get burned.”
Under Secretary Krach’s recent visit appears to be the trigger for the military activity along the Taiwan Strait on the 18th and 19th. Under Secretary Krach was visiting Taiwan to attend a memorial service for the late President Lee Teng-hui. President Lee Teng-hui died at the age of 97 and was known as the first democratically elected president of Taiwan. He was elected in 1996 following months of military intimidation from China through exercises carried out near the Taiwanese coastline.
While the United States has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, according to Reuters, they plan to execute new arms sales to Taiwan. The recent Taiwan Defense Act (S.3936), brought to congress in June of this year, requires the Department of Defense to maintain the ability to defeat a Chinese invasion against Taiwan. The act’s sponsor Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri called Taiwan “the lynchpin of a free and open Indo-Pacific,” going on the suggest that allowing the Chinese Communist Party to seize control of Taiwan will set China up to “dominate the region.” Senator Hawley deems this an “unacceptable threat to the lives and livelihoods” of both Asian allies and Americans.
Taiwanese presidential spokesman Xavier Chang urged China to show restraint and assured reporters the armed forces had control of the situation. There have been no further reports of military activity by China across the mid-line of the Taiwan Strait. However, the Taiwanese military has made it clear they are prepared to act in self-defense. Taiwan’s defense ministry has established the guideline of “no escalation of conflict and no triggering incidents.” They have declared they will not provoke China, but they are also not afraid of the enemy at all.
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