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Cross-Strait Tensions Rise Ahead of Taiwan’s Presidential Inauguration

Published: May 18, 2024
(Image: Taiwan President-elect Lai Ching-te speaks as Incoming Defence Minister Wellington Koo stands next to him during a press conference where incoming cabinet members are announced, in Taipei, Taiwan April 25, 2024. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/File Photo)

Taiwanese authorities reported that mainland China’s military forces had carried out another “combat patrol” near the island on Tuesday, May 14, including sending aircraft across the Taiwan Strait’s sensitive median line. 

The news was reported just days before Taiwan’s current vice president takes office as Republic of China (ROC) President on May 20. The ROC is Taiwan’s official name. 

Over the past four years, Communist China’s military has significantly ramped up its activities around Taiwan. Beijing views the island as its own territory, a position the government in Taipei strongly rejects. 

Beijing has labeled Lai, who belongs to the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), a “dangerous separatist” and has rejected repeated offers for cross-strait negotiations.

 Lai addressed the Copenhagen Democracy Summit in a pre-recorded message on Tuesday, May 14, saying he would work to safeguard the status quo across the strait.

“I will not rule out dialogue with China on the principles of mutual respect, mutual benefits and dignity, with no preconditions,” he said.

The ROC Ministry of National Defense said that starting at 5pm (09 GMT) it had spotted 23 mainland Chinese military aircraft, including advanced Su-30 fighters, carrying out “joint combat readiness patrols” in conjunction with warships.

The ROC ministry reported that a total of 15 PLA (People’s Liberation Army) aircraft crossed the strait’s median line or areas nearby, and flew into airspace to the north, center and southwest of Taiwan.

The median line serves as an unofficial border between the two sides, but PLA warplanes now regularly cross it. 

This is at least the third time in the space of just a month Taiwan has reported a PLA “joint combat readiness patrol”.

On another occasion, Taiwan’s coast guard reported that the mainland coast guard carried out another patrol in waters close to the Kinmen islands controlled by the ROC, near the Chinese cities of Xiamen and Quanzhou.

Taiwan sent six patrol ships to warn off the five PLA boats. Taiwan’s coast guard said it was the fifth time this month Communist China performed such a mission around Kinmen islands.

Beijing should restrain itself and stop such “irrational” moves, the coast guard said in a statement.

“The Coast Guard will uphold the principle of non-provocation and not showing weakness, continue to strengthen its law enforcement position, and deter mainland China’s actions that endanger navigational safety,” it added.

Mainland Chinese state media has described their coast guard patrols around Kinmen as “normal law enforcement inspections” to help protect local fishermen. 

Such patrols began in February, following a dispute about the death of two mainland Chinese nationals, who perished while fleeing the ROC coast guard upon entering prohibited waters around Kinmen.

Reuters contributed to the report.