Taiwan: Chinese Fighters Fly Across the Taiwan Strait as Regional Tensions Soar

3 MINS READApr 1, 2019 | 19:50 GMT
The Big Picture

Tensions across the Taiwan Strait have escalated over the past two years due to Beijing's increasingly aggressive military posture regarding its territorial claims over Taiwan. For its part, the United States has more assertively challenged China over Taiwan. This situation could lead to more standoffs and close calls in maritime hot spots between Taiwanese and U.S. forces on one side and Chinese forces on the other.

What Happened

Two Chinese J-11 fighter jets crossed the cross-strait median, the de facto maritime border between China and Taiwan, the morning of March 31, Taiwanese officials said. When the Chinese fighters failed to change course after being hailed by the Taiwanese, they were met by Taiwanese interceptors. Even so, the Chinese fighter jets continued the incursion for about 10 minutes. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen labeled the incursion "reckless and provocative" and called for the "forceful expulsion" of Chinese warplanes should they cross the line again.

Why It Matters

The encounter marks one of the most serious incursions by People's Liberation Army Air Force fighter jets on the Taiwanese side of the maritime border this century. Chinese jets flew across the cross-strait median frequently until 1999, when both sides tacitly agreed to halt the practice. Rare subsequent Chinese crossings were largely deemed accidental.

The duration of the latest incursion implies it was intentional, and it reflects increased tensions between China and Taiwan and in the broader U.S.-China geopolitical struggle.

The incursion might be an effort by Beijing to test Taipei's response, or to compel Taipei to seek negotiations on avoiding escalations from such encounters.

China's apparent ending of the informal nonincursion agreement might be an effort to test Taipei's response, and it could compel Taipei to seek negotiations on avoiding escalations from such encounters. It could result in Taiwanese fighters making their own incursions on the west side of the line, which in turn could lead to a cycle of tit-for-tat provocations coming amid already-tense cross-strait relations. Unsurprisingly, Beijing is more likely to avoid potentially dangerous escalations with the United States, but increased hostile encounters in the Taiwan Strait could draw Washington in deeper anyway.


Cross-strait relations have deteriorated since Tsai took office in 2016, with Beijing using pressure tactics including threats of military action to try to assert its claims over Taiwan. The government of U.S. President Donald Trump has meanwhile stepped up its support to Taipei, which has included more U.S. naval patrols in the Taiwan Strait and efforts to regularize arms sales to Taipei. In March, the Trump administration gave preliminary approval to Taiwan's request to buy more than 60 more modern F-16s. The Chinese response to more U.S. naval patrols and to arms sales to Taiwan can be expected to include increased Chinese maritime patrols and exercises in and across the Taiwan Strait.

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