Incursions by Chinese military aircraft into Taiwan’s airspace late last month were more politically rather than militarily motivated, analysts said on Monday.
Twenty Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) aircraft entered Taiwan’s air defense identification zone on March 26. Among them were two Y-8 marine patrol aircraft and an H-6K bomber that flew into airspace southeast of Taiwan, the Ministry of National Defense said.
On Monday last week, 10 PLA aircraft entered the zone and a Y-8 again flew to the southeast of Taiwan.
The incursions drew attention because Chinese planes used to limit themselves to the airspace southwest of Taiwan, which is closer to their bases, and they came amid growing speculation over whether and when China might take military action against Taiwan.
Su Tzu-yun (蘇紫雲), a senior analyst at the government-funded Institute for National Defense and Security Research, said that the incursions into airspace southeast of Taiwan should be seen as Beijing’s political response to closer Taiwan-US relations, rather than a military move.
The incursions were described as “harassment” by most local Chinese-language media.
The March 26 intrusion came one day after Taiwan and the US signed a memorandum of understanding on coast guard cooperation, while last week’s incursion coincided with the arrival in Taiwan of Palauan President Surangel Whipps Jr, accompanied by US Ambassador to Palau John Hennessey-Niland.
Chieh Chung (揭仲), a research fellow at the Association of Strategic Foresight think tank, echoed Su’s view, adding that such intrusions were nothing new.
PLA aircraft circled Taiwan at least 24 times between Nov. 25, 2016, and Feb. 9 last year, he said.
The intrusion of Chinese planes into the airspace southeast of Taiwan attracted considerable attention because PLA planes had generally limited themselves to airspace southwest of Taiwan since 2019, he said.
However, the PLA aircraft that flew to Taiwan’s east were all low-speed reconnaissance planes, which are less sensitive, he added.
If Beijing really had a strong military motive for the flyovers, it would have deployed fighters, accompanied by aerial refueling aircraft, as PLA fighter jets have limited range, he said.
“PLA planes’ operations on March 26 and 29 were more political than military,” Chieh said.
“The next thing Taiwan should watch for is the PLA’s development of aerial refueling capabilities and Beijing’s possible use of carrier-based aircraft to escort its long-range bombers,” he said.
Lin Ying-yu (林穎佑), an assistant professor at National Chung Cheng University, said that Chinese marine patrol aircraft could be flying into airspace southeast of Taiwan in preparation for the nation’s deployment of its indigenous submarines in that area.
“Taiwan’s indigenous submarines, once completed, will pose a threat to China’s navy. So China’s anti-submarine planes could be checking the underwater environment in the area or looking for blind spots in Taiwan’s radar,” Lin said.
The government in 2016 launched an indigenous submarine project to bolster the nation’s aging fleet of four submarines with eight new diesel-electric models, the first of which is scheduled to enter service by 2025.
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