Shantou-Waisha airport in the Guangdong province of China is located less than 220 miles from the southern Taiwanese city of Tainan. Opened in 1956 as a military airport for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the airport began hosting commercial carriers in 1974.
It was the main airport serving the city of Shantou until 2011 when another airport took over operations. However, Beijing seems to be using Shantou-Waisha airport once more for military purposes, specifically against Taiwan.
According to satellite images provided by Planet Labs to Defense News, the airport has been hosting rotating detachments of PLA aircraft since October Last year. One image from the month showed two Shaanxi KQ-200 anti-submarine warfare aircraft parked in the airport.
On May 7, two similar aircraft were seen. On that day, Taiwan’s defense ministry had announced that two KQ-200 had breached the southern part of the island’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). The aircraft flew from and went back in the direction of Shantou.
“That type of area is airspace over which the identification and location of aircraft operating in it is monitored for national security purposes, and is separate from and may extend beyond a country’s territorial airspace to give the country more time to respond to aircraft of interest,” according to Defense News.
On Sept. 2, six Sukhoi Su-27/30 Flanker aircraft were seen on the base. A few days later, Taiwan reported that Chinese Su-30 planes had entered its ADIZ.
The media outlet speculated that the presence of similar planes in Shantou-Waisha and during the ADIZ breach indicates that the air base might be operated by the PLA as a “convenient jumping-off point” for its aircraft heading towards Taiwan.
The base allows the PLA to decrease the time required to access and conduct patrols in the southern regions of the Taiwan Strait, Bashi Channel, and South China Sea.
Lately, Beijing has been sending more planes into Taiwan’s ADIZ. Experts believe that this increasing show of aggressiveness is triggered by growing ties between the United States and Taiwan.
Washington’s support to Taipei is problematic for Beijing as it could prevent Beijing from successfully annexing the island. Beijing does not see Taiwan as a separate independent entity but only as a wayward province that should soon be unified with the mainland.
Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen warned about Beijing’s belligerent attitude. In an interview with CNN, the president said that the threat from China is growing “every day” and confirmed that some U.S. soldiers were present on the island for training purposes.
Tsai said that Taiwan has a “wide range of cooperation” with the United States to boost the island’s defense capabilities. Calling Taiwan a “beacon” of democracy, Tsai stressed that the island must be defended to uphold democratic values in the world.
“Here is this island of 23 million people trying hard every day to protect ourselves and protect our democracy and making sure that our people have the kind of freedom they deserve… If we fail, then that means people that believe in these values would doubt whether these are values that they [should] be fighting for,” Tsai said.