Tensions Rising Over Taiwan Strait

China crosses the median line, again . . . 

For the last few months, Taiwan has reported a rise in incursions by Chinese warplanes into its air defence identification zone (ADIZ), a commonly recognized ‘buffer zone’ off a jurisdiction’s coast. An ADIZ is not a legal agreement and does not confer sovereignty, as it extends beyond a jurisdiction’s air space, which is typically limited to 12 nautical miles. In the Taiwan Strait, this buffer zone is also referred to as the ‘median line,’ an unofficial demarcation observed for decades by both China and Taiwan as a code of conduct for reducing the risks of accidents and conflict in this contested area. In addition to violating the median line, Beijing claimed in a controversial statement on Monday that it did not even recognize Taiwan’s ADIZ, raising tensions even further.

Why the increased tension?

Analysts claim that one reason for China’s increasing military activity around Taiwan is Beijing’s uneasiness over Taipei’s successful handling of the COVID-19 outbreak and the resulting growth of its soft power and recognition around the world. Others believe that it is a natural evolution of China’s posture toward Taiwan. Indeed, Beijing has not ruled out the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control. In his New Year’s speech last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping warned that the Taiwan issue “should not be passed down generation after generation,” and he did not renounce the use of force to achieve reunification. The U.S., under the Trump Administration, has strengthened its support for the island and boosted weapons and equipment sales to Taipei. Recently, high-level U.S. officials also visited the island, likely prompting China to become more belligerent toward Taiwan.

The future U.S.-China-Taiwan triangular relationship . . .

While armed conflict in the Taiwan Strait remains a possibility, and China’s recent military activities represent an escalation of an already tense situation, the risk of war remains unlikely, at least in the short term. But with President Trump seeking reelection and touting a tougher approach to China as a key part of his foreign policy platform, the situation could intensify. China’s threats against Taiwan could also lead the island to push for greater international recognition and participation in international institutions, further stoking Beijing’s ire.