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Asia Minute: China’s increasing flights near Taiwan deliver symbolic message

Taiwan China PLA j-16 Fighter jet
Taiwan Ministry of Defense
In this undated file photo released by the Taiwan Ministry of Defense, a Chinese PLA J-16 fighter jet flies in an undisclosed location. (Taiwan Ministry of Defense via AP, File)

China has sent a record number of its planes very close to Taiwan in recent days. The United States calls the moves “provocative,” while the Beijing government says it’s the fault of the United States. Flights like these are not new, but they are symbolic.

China’s flights are technically not going over Taiwan — but coming close.

They are entering “air defense identification zone.”

That’s not over territorial airspace, but it’s very close.

Close enough that authorities want to know the identification and intention of any aircraft flying there.

It’s a kind of buffer zone — almost like a warning track on a baseball field before an outfielder slams into the danger of a stadium wall.

Air Defense Identification Zones go back to the Korean War — they’re designed to avoid conflict.

They are not defined by any treaty — not regulated by any international body — but they can be symbolic.

And that’s the point of China’s recent incursions — nearly 150 of them over several days.

They come around the same time as a weekend naval exercise involving the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan and four other allies.

The U.S. Navy says the 17 surface ships included four aircraft carriers, operating southeast of Okinawa.

The Chinese flights also included dozens on Friday — China’s National Day.

That symbolism is not lost on Taiwan’s government — which this coming Sunday will celebrate its own National Day — marking 110 years since the end of China’s imperial era, and the founding of the “Republic of China.”

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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