World · August 3, 2022

Does Taiwan have its own airspace?

China’s defense ministry has released a map of six areas around the island where it plans to conduct air and sea drills, as well as long-range live-fire drills, as part of what a spokesman described as a “blockade.”

Ships and planes were warned to stay out of areas during drills.

The exercise areas announced by Beijing extend well into the Taiwan Air Defense Identification Zone – an airspace buffer commonly referred to as ADIZ – and in some cases invade the territorial airspace of the island, an area recognized by international law extending 12 nautical miles (22.2 kilometers) from the coast.

Analysts say it is an extremely provocative move.

Carl Schuster, a former captain in the United States Navy and former director of operations at the Joint Intelligence Center of the United States Pacific Command, said China is going “much farther than it ever has before” in putting the its military assets near the coasts of Taiwan.

The threats from Beijing have sparked much discussion about what, exactly, constitutes Taiwan’s airspace, and if it is recognized by international law.

Here’s what you need to know.

What is the airspace of a country?

Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), a country’s territorial borders extend 12 nautical miles (22.2 kilometers) from its coast.

The area above is considered the country’s territorial airspace, according to the Convention on International Civil Aviation, which also stipulates that government or military aircraft cannot fly over another country’s territory without authorization.

China is one of the signatories of UNCLOS, it signs it on 10 December 1982 and ratifies it in 1996. Taiwan no.

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

The controversial state of Taiwan makes a definitive answer to this question difficult.

While Taiwan is an autonomous democracy, Mainland China insists on having sovereignty on the island and is firmly against any suggestion that it can be considered an independent country.

Most countries of the world do not recognize Taiwan as an independent country, having diplomatic relations with Beijing rather than with Taipei.

However, Drew Thompson, a visiting senior research 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 most of the world treated Taiwan as if it were a independent country – and for this reason, it should be considered as having its own airspace.

“The reality is that Taiwan exists. Taiwan is autonomous. It is effectively independent of any other country. It elects its own government, collects its taxes, defends its borders. So, for all intents and purposes, Taiwan is a country,” Thompson said. .

A view of the South China Sea between the city of Xiamen in China in the distance and the islands of Kinmen in Taiwan, February 2, 2021.

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

Thompson said there was also a precedent and that even the Chinese military seemed to tacitly acknowledge it.

Despite the “fact that the EPL (People’s Liberation Army) doesn’t recognize Taiwan, or China doesn’t recognize Taiwan, they respected Taiwan’s airspace,” he said.

Chinese commercial aviation companies have also respected Taiwan’s airspace, Thompson said, recognizing a “convention that effectively treats Taiwan as independent under civil aviation guidelines.”

However, China argues 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 could China fly its military planes over Taiwan?

“He would like to go against international law, but international law is fragile and open to interpretation by any country that decides whether they want to follow or apply it,” said Thompson.

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

The UN website states that international law is respected “in many ways – by courts, tribunals, multilateral treaties – and by the Security Council, which can approve peacekeeping missions, impose sanctions or authorize the use of force when there is a threat to international peace and security, if he deems it necessary “.

But remember, the five permanent members of the Security Council, including China and the United States, have veto power so they can block any attempts by the United Nations to enforce international law.

“You have seen China ignore the rules of international law left and right for decades, not least in the South China Sea,” Thompson said, referring to the military structures that China has built on various islands despite its claims of sovereignty. rejected by an international court in 2016.

What is the difference between airspace and an air defense identification zone?

Taiwan has been in the headlines frequently recently as Chinese warplanes entered its air defense identification zone.

For example, Taiwan said on Tuesday that 21 Chinese planes entered its ADIZ and there have been nearly daily raids by PLA warplanes in the past month.

However, these zones are not the same as territorial airspace. Rather, they are unilaterally declared buffer areas that extend beyond territorial airspace, which are specifically set up to give defensive forces time to react when foreign aircraft approach. Consequently, not all countries have an air defense identification zone.

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

Mercedes Trent of the Federation of American Scientists wrote in a 2020 review that: “It is customary for foreign planes entering such areas to identify themselves and seek prior clearance from the country controlling the area before entering.”

If foreign aircraft enter an air defense identification zone without authorization, the home jurisdiction often takes fighter jets off to alert intruders. This has happened on numerous occasions when Chinese warplanes have entered the Taiwan Air Defense Identification Zone in recent years.

How did Taiwan establish its Air Defense Identification Zone?

The island’s air defense identification zone was actually an idea of ​​the United States, which set up similar zones for Japan, South Korea and the Philippines to try to protect them from Chinese and Russian overflight, according to Trent, of the Federation of American scientists.

Part of the Taiwan Air Defense Identification Zone actually extends to the Chinese mainland, but Chinese flights are only challenged by Taiwan if they cross the midline, the halfway point between the island and the mainland above the Taiwan Strait .

Does China have an air defense identification zone?

yes It sits above the East China Sea and covers the disputed Senkaku / Diaoyu island chain, which is controlled by Japan.

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