Taipei protests after Beijing opens new aviation corridors over Taiwan Strait

Island says Beijing’s decision uses commercial aviation to cloak its political and even military agenda to change the status quo of the strait

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 January, 2018, 10:38pm
UPDATED : Friday, 05 January, 2018, 10:57pm

Beijing opened four new aviation corridors over the Taiwan Strait for use on Thursday, prompting Taiwan to strongly protest and demand immediate negotiations with Beijing.

The mainland’s Civil Aviation Administration announced on its website that commercial aircraft could begin from Thursday flying south to north through the M503 air corridor, and using three connecting regional corridors.

To ensure aviation safety, it said aircraft flying through those corridors will avoid existing aviation routes to and from Taiwan’s outlying islands of Matsu and Quemoy which lie just off the southeast coast of China.

The aviation administration also said it would continue “technical communications with the Taiwanese side”.

In response, Taiwan lodged a protest.

“We find China’s unilateral decision unacceptable,” Deputy Minister of Transport and Communications Frank Fan said at the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC).

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MAC Minister Katharine Chang said her council had expressed “strong discontent and protest” to Beijing, asked it to immediately rescind permission for aircraft to use those corridors, and urged negotiations commence to ensure aviation safety.

“If China continues to do only what it wishes, it must shoulder all serious consequences that might affect cross-strait relations,” Chang said.

In January 2015, Beijing announced the opening on March 5 that year of four aviation corridors over the Taiwan Strait to ease growing air traffic congestion over its heavily populated east coast.

After months of negotiations, Beijing did agree to postpone the launch of the M503 corridor by several weeks, and that all aircraft would fly in only one direction – north to south – and fly at least six nautical miles to the west of the centre line through the Taiwan Strait.

As for flights from south to north through M503 and the three other corridors, China agreed to negotiate with Taiwan before opening them for use.

However, after Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party took office in May 2016, Beijing unilaterally suspended official contact with Taipei, ending the cross-strait rapprochement under her predecessor Ma Ying-jeou who was elected on a platform of seeking friendlier ties with the mainland.

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Chang said Beijing’s decision to open the four new aviation corridors on Thursday for use not only violated the 2015 agreement, but also used commercial aviation to cloak its political and even military agenda to change the status quo of the strait.

The four new routes are close to Taiwan’s military exercise zones, with two close to Taiwan aviation routes to Quemoy and Matsu.

The mainland cited increased traffic on existing air routes for the establishment of the new air corridors. But Fan questioned Beijing’s intention, saying statistics show only an average of 60 to 70 aircraft flying the M503 route daily.

Taiwan and the mainland have been governed separately since Kuomintang forces led by Chiang Kai-shek were defeated by the communists under Mao Zedong and fled to Taiwan in 1949. Beijing has since regarded Taiwan as a renegade province awaiting reunification by force if necessary.