Taiwan's consent not needed for air routes: China

BEIJING/TAIPEI • China said yesterday that it does not need Taiwan's permission to open new air routes, after the self-ruled island complained that a new route over the narrow Taiwan Strait that separates the two posed a security and safety risk.

China's sole operational aircraft carrier also passed through the Taiwan Strait yesterday, the island's defence ministry said, in a move seen as Beijing stepping up pressure on Taipei.

Beijing has taken an increasingly hostile stance towards Taiwan since the election two years ago of President Tsai Ing-wen from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party.

Ms Tsai said this month the opening of the air route, which runs close to two groups of Taiwan-controlled islands off the Chinese coast, was an irresponsible act that threatens regional security and affects aviation safety.

Taipei said this month's opening of the north-bound M503 route in the Taiwan Strait was done without informing Taiwan, contravening what Taipei said is a 2015 deal to discuss such flight paths first.

Speaking at a regular news briefing in Beijing, China's Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman Ma Xiaoguang denied breaking the 2015 agreement and said Taiwan had been informed the route would be opening.

"But this does not mean that opening air routes needs Taiwan's agreement," Mr Ma said.

There would be no impact on aviation safety, he added, saying the route was needed to alleviate pressure on busy routes over south-eastern China between Hong Kong and Shanghai.

Taipei said last Friday the new flight path was so close to the middle line of the Taiwan Strait, it would affect Taiwan air force exercises and other flight operations.

"The planes can come very close to each other," an official added, referring to other connecting routes that China has opened and where Taiwan civilian flights already operate. "It becomes a very dangerous situation if we do not consult with each other."

Taiwan's defence ministry said China's Liaoning carrier and accompanying vessels entered Taiwan's air defence zone early yesterday morning and left by noon. The fleet, which earlier this month had sailed south through the strait that separates Taiwan and China, was seen again heading north, it said. As in the past two crossings, the ship did not enter Taiwanese waters, the ministry added.

The Chinese aircraft carrier caused a stir in Taiwan when it first entered the strait in January last year, a move viewed as a symbolic show of strength by Beijing, which sees Taiwan as a renegade province.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE -PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2018, with the headline 'Taiwan's consent not needed for air routes: China'. Print Edition | Subscribe