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Intelligence Brief - Taiwan Airspace

Date: 4th-7th of August 2022

Location: Taiwanese FIR/Airspace

Parties involved: Republic of China (ROC), People’s Republic of China, The United States House speaker Nancy Pelosi; US President Joe Biden; [Taiwan] President Tsai Ing-Wen; [People’s Republic of China] President Xi Jinping.

The Event:

  • On 31/07/2022 Nancy Pelosi started her Asia diplomatic trip. This trip includes Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and Singapore. When her trip was announced in early 2022, it was rumored, but not confirmed, that she would visit Taiwan.

  • Chinese President Xi Jinping held a call with his US counterpart Joe Biden in which he reportedly said “Those who play with fire will perish by it.” Two weeks prior, on 19/07/2022, China had already warned that if the US House speaker was to visit the island, it would take “resolute and forceful measures.”

  • Under the escort of F-15 fighter jets and KC-135 Tanker aircraft, on the evening of 02/08/2022 Ms. Pelosi landed aboard a USAF C-40 VIP passenger plane at Taipei airport, becoming the highest-ranking American official in 25 years to visit the self-ruled island.

  • China announced live-fire military exercises in retaliation. Images on social media revealed a significant PLA movement toward the Fujian province, the closest to Taiwan in mainland China. The exercises were planned to cross Taiwan’s sovereign territorial waters (in blue) and internal waters (in pink). Soon after, Beijing summoned the US ambassador to China in protest of Ms. Pelosi’s visit. Beijing has also announced new trade restrictions, such as banning exports of fruit, fish and sand to Taiwan.

  • On 03/08/2022, China warned airlines to avoid airspace near Taiwan in six areas of airspace designated as ‘danger zones.’ Flights will be restricted from 12 p.m. 04/08, to 12 p.m. 07/08. This is under the guise of ‘snap naval exercises.’

Analysis and implications:

  • It is important to note that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is not the only politician to visit Taiwan over the last 25 years; but she is the highest ranking. However, a factor contributing to this rise in tensions is that she has a history of opposing the Chinese Communist party, such as visiting Tiananmen Square in 1991.

  • Due to the mass mobilization of Chinese [PLA] troops, naval assault assault units, logistical assets, and the Chinese Air Force, these serve as indicators that an assault could be imminent. But a large question remains whether this is just a show of force, or actually a threat.

  • President Xi Jinping is seeking to be confirmed for a third term during the Communist party’s 20th congress planned for this autumn. It is plausible that these moves are part of a strategy to not look weak in the face of the communist party's other candidates. But this poses a dual risk, as if he proves too hard handed, he may be also viewed as reckless.

  • Additionally, on 01/08/2022, the Chinese Military celebrated its founding anniversary. It seems that a show of force against Taiwan would prove beneficial to such festivities. But it remains questionable as to whether a full blown invasion would be the logical next step for the Chinese Communist Party.

  • For the aviation industry this developing situation causes an immediate security concern. The movement of naval ships, fast jets, and anti-aircraft systems by both the ROC and Chinese military during these heightened times of tension could pose an immediate risk to aircraft operating within the region. Unintentional/intentional shoot downs, intercepts, and mid-air collisions have been aggravated by this situation.

  • It is important to understand that this threat is not limited to the designated red boxes [as noted on the previous page], but any area within Taiwan FIR or Shanghai FIR. This is due to the range that surface to air missiles are capable of hitting (100-240km).

Concluding notes:

Ms. Pelosi's visit to Taiwan took place against the backdrop of increasingly heated warnings from Beijing. Whereas it is unclear to which extent the latter will retaliate, these events will play a key role in the security developments of the Indo-Pacific. Now that Ms. Pelosi’s visit is over, a military standoff between China and Taiwan is likely to start. The planned drills, if they go forward, would directly challenge what Taiwan defines as its territorial waters. It remains to be seen if the island, and the US military, will be sending boats and planes in the designated ‘danger zones.’ Additionally, the visit, whereas a strong symbolic gesture, may damage Washington’s reach to other key allies in the region, which may not welcome the rising tensions, and in Taiwan itself. Lastly, China may retaliate directly on the US with sanctions or export bans. For the aviation industry, the tensions are causing immediate security concerns in any area within Taiwan FIR or Shanghai FIR.

20220803 Intel brief - Taiwan Airspace v1.0 FL470 (1)
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For more in-depth Sitreps, analyses, or bespoke advice on the aviation security and safety concerns regarding this region, or other areas across the globe, please contact Dyami at +31 30 207 2120 or through our webpage.

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