Taiwan angry over China’s ‘unilateral’ change to Taiwan Strait flight path

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TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan’s government expressed anger after China “unilaterally” changed a flight path near the sensitive midline of the Taiwan Strait, saying it was a deliberate attempt to change the status quo in favor of possible military means.

China’s Civil Aviation Administration said in a brief statement on Tuesday that it was canceling from Thursday a “compensation measure” for the southbound operation of the M503 air route, which lies just east of China. west of the center line of the strait.

The median line has served for years as an unofficial barrier between Chinese-claimed Taiwan and China, but China says it does not recognize its existence and Chinese warplanes now regularly fly over it as Beijing seeks to pressure Taipei so that it accepts its claims to sovereignty.

China also announced that it was opening routes from west to east – that is, towards Taiwan – on two air routes from the Chinese cities of Xiamen and Fuzhou, close to the island groups under Taiwanese control of Kinmen and Matsu, which have regular flights to Taiwan.

Taiwan’s Civil Aviation Administration and the Chinese Mainland Affairs Council both called the measures “unilateral” and strongly protested.

The Mainland Affairs Council said China was ignoring flight safety, disrespecting Taiwan and trying to “condition” civil aviation based on political or military considerations to potentially change the status quo across the strait.

“If the mainland stubbornly clings to its position, it will have to bear all the serious consequences affecting cross-Strait relations,” he added.

Chieh Chung, a military researcher at Taiwan’s National Policy Foundation, said the new road would be about 7 km (4.3 miles) from the median line, reducing the alert and reaction time of air defenses from Taiwan.

“It attempts to completely eliminate and deny the existence of the middle line,” he said.

China’s Taiwan Affairs Office described the changes as “routine” and aimed at easing pressure on the airspace.

“This is also conducive to improving cross-Strait air operations and facilitating people-to-people exchanges, which is in line with the common interests of compatriots on both sides of the Strait,” he said in a statement. communicated.

The M503 route is primarily used by Chinese airlines as well as foreign airlines flying to and from cities like Shanghai to Southeast Asia.

Flights to and from Taiwan and China’s Xiamen and Fuzhou take a circuitous route avoiding the median line, rather than crossing the strait directly.

Taiwan previously complained about the M503 road, in 2018, when it said China had opened the northern part of it without first informing Taipei, in violation of a 2015 agreement to discuss first of these flight paths.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Yimou Lee; Editing by Stephen Coates)

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