Does Taiwan have its own airspace?

The Chinese Ministry of Defense has released a map of six zones around the island where it plans to conduct air, sea and long-range live fire exercises in what an official called a “blockade.”

The ships and planes were they were warned to stay away from the sites during the exercise.

The exercise areas announced by Beijing extend far beyond the Taiwan Air Defense Identification Zone, an airspace buffer commonly referred to as Air Defense. and in some cases infringe on the island’s territorial airspace, an area recognized by international law extending 12 nautical miles (22.2 km) from the coast.

According to analysts, this is a highly provocative move.

Karl Schuster, a former US Navy captain and former director of operations at the US Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center, said China is going “much further than ever before” by deploying its military assets off the coast of Taiwan.

Beijing’s threats have sparked a lot of discussion about what exactly constitutes Taiwanese airspace, and if it is recognized by international law.

Here’s what you need to know.

What is a country’s airspace?

Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the country’s territorial boundaries extend 12 nautical miles (22.2 km) from its coastline.

The above territory is considered the territorial airspace of the country in accordance with the Convention on International Civil Aviation, which also provides that government or military aircraft cannot fly over the territory of another country without permission.

China has signed UNCLOS, having signed it on December 10, 1982 and ratified it in 1996. Taiwan has not.

If Taiwan is not an independent country, does it have its own airspace?

The disputed status of Taiwan makes it difficult to answer this question unambiguously.

While Taiwan is a self-governing democracy, mainland China insists that it has sovereignty over the island and vehemently opposes any suggestion that it be considered an independent country.

Most countries in the world do not recognize Taiwan as an independent country that maintains diplomatic relations with Beijing rather than Taipei.

However, Drew Thompson, visiting senior fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore and a former US Department of Defense official, said much of the world treats Taiwan as if it were an independent country. for this reason it should be considered as having its own airspace.

“The reality is that Taiwan exists. Taiwan is autonomous. It is virtually independent of any other country. He elects his own government, collects his own taxes, defends his own borders. said.

View of the South China Sea between the city of Xiamen in China, in the distance, and the Kinmen Islands in Taiwan, February 2, 2021.

“According to this principle, then perhaps we will decide that international law applies, in which case Taiwan’s airspace extends 12 miles beyond its baseline. Beyond the 12-mile limit are international waters, international airspace,” he added.

Thompson said it was also a matter of precedent, and even the Chinese military seemed to tacitly acknowledge this.

Despite “the fact that the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) does not recognize Taiwan and China does not recognize Taiwan, they respect Taiwan’s airspace,” he said.

Chinese commercial aviation companies also respect Taiwan’s airspace, Thompson said, recognizing “a convention that effectively treats Taiwan as an independent region in accordance with civil aviation principles.”

However, China maintains that since Taiwan is its sovereign territory, its military aircraft do not need permission from Taiwan or any other entity to fly into the island’s territorial airspace. In Beijing’s eyes, Taiwan’s airspace is essentially China’s airspace.

So can China fly its warplanes over Taiwan?

“It would be contrary to international law, but international law is unreliable and open to interpretation by each country, which decides whether they want to follow it or enforce it,” Thompson said.

But what is “international law”? The International Court of Justice in The Hague says it judges cases on the basis of “international conventions” such as treaties such as UNCLOS; “international custom as evidence of a common practice accepted as law”, in other words, what countries usually do in given circumstances; and “general principles of law recognized by civilized nations”.

The UN website says that international law is respected “by various means – courts, tribunals, multilateral treaties – and the Security Council, which can approve peacekeeping missions, impose sanctions or authorize the use of force in the presence of a threat to international peace and security, if it considers it necessary.”

But remember, the five permanent members of the Security Council, including China and the US, have veto power, so they can block any attempt by the UN to enforce international law.

“You have seen how China has disregarded international law for decades, not least in the South China Sea,” Thompson said, referring to the military installations China has built on various islands despite its claims to sovereignty were rejected by an international tribunal. in 2016.

How is airspace different from an air defense identification zone?

Taiwan has made headlines lately when Chinese warplanes enter its air defense identification zone.

Taiwan, for example, said on Tuesday that 21 Chinese aircraft had entered its air defenses, and there have been almost daily incursions by PLA warplanes over the past month.

However, these zones do not coincide with territorial airspace. Rather, they are unilaterally declared buffer zones extending beyond territorial airspace, specifically designed to give the defense forces time to respond to the approach of foreign aircraft. Consequently, not all countries have an air defense identification zone.

The US Federal Aviation Administration defines zones as “a designated area of ​​airspace over land or water within which a country requires the immediate and positive identification, positioning, and air traffic control of aircraft in the interests of the country’s national security.”

Mercedes Trent of the Federation of American Scientists wrote in a 2020 review that “Foreign aircraft entering such zones typically identify themselves and seek prior clearance from the country controlling the zone before entering.”

If a foreign aircraft does enter an air defense identification zone without permission, the home jurisdiction will often take off fighter jets to warn off intruders. This has happened repeatedly in recent years when Chinese warplanes entered Taiwan’s air defense identification zone.

How did Taiwan establish its air defense identification zone?

The island’s air defense identification zone was actually the brainchild of the United States, which established similar zones for Japan, South Korea and the Philippines to try to protect them from Chinese and Russian overflights, according to Trent of the Federation of American Scientists.

Part of Taiwan’s air defense identification zone actually extends over mainland China, but Taiwan only challenges Chinese overflights if they cross the median line, a point halfway between the island and the mainland over the Taiwan Strait.

Does China have an air defense identification zone?

Yes. It sits above the East China Sea and spans the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands chain controlled by Japan.

China’s air defense identification zone overlaps the identification zones of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. However, it does not cover the island of Taiwan itself, stopping not far from its northern tip.