China will increasingly ignore the Taiwan Strait’s so-called median line, the island’s air defense identification zone, and the maritime exclusive economic zone—unofficial rules that have kept the peace so far.
The US once played a key role in maintaining peace between Taiwan under the Kuomintang and China under Mao Zedong. There is now a danger that both sides will embark on the dangerous path of confrontation. Since the relationship between the two countries located on both sides of the strait is very complex, let’s just consider one aspect – the so-called “median line” in the strait.
This line is not as well known as the Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), which is usually not internationally recognized but self-declared by the ruling state. Thus, the United States can violate China’s LAPD, while Beijing can violate Taiwan’s LAPD without much consequence. Such actions may be provocative, but not necessarily escalatory in the sense of leading to a potential military confrontation.
Quite another thing is the “median line”. Although it is also unofficial and has no status in international law, both parties observed it, at least until recently. Since Beijing has pledged to respond strongly to any visit to Taiwan by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, we are likely to hear more about this line in the coming days or weeks. Perhaps more Chinese military aircraft will cross the border and stay longer on the Taiwanese side as a show of strength and discontent.
Washington helped negotiate the line in 1954 after the end of the Korean War, which turned Mao’s military attention away from the Kuomintang and the invasion of Taiwan. In retrospect, today’s China might have been better off if Mao had continued to invade the island rather than commit himself to North Korea. This may well be one of the greatest “ifs” in history, but it is likely that there would have been a united China and a united Korea, resulting in far fewer hotbeds of tension in the Asia-Pacific region.
But, in any case, the “median line” held for decades. However, in September 2020, Beijing openly abandoned this unofficial demarcation line. That month, dozens of Chinese military aircraft flew over it for two days in retaliation for visits by two cabinet ministers under the Donald Trump administration.
However, after that crisis, China had no desire to cross the line it no longer recognized. In June, however, Beijing announced that the Taiwan Strait was not “international waters.” He did this in response to the increasing frequency of US Navy ships passing through it. Since 2020, such provocations (at least that’s what China calls them) have been happening on average once a month. At least six passages have already been made this year.
So what does escalation mean? Early last month, several PLA fighter jets crossed the “median line” on the Taiwanese side. Last week, perhaps in retaliation, a large number of American fighter jets violated the “median line” between Japan and China proposed by Tokyo. It is easy to see how a hotbed of tension located south of the East China Sea can easily spread to its north, escalating into a regional conflict.
China will gradually increasingly ignore Taiwan’s LAPD and even the “median line”, effectively turning them into non-existent ones. It will do the same with the island’s maritime exclusive economic zone and may even challenge its actual territorial waters, God forbid.
Well, I can’t understand how Pelosi’s publicity stunts and public relations help the security of Taiwan or the region, other than aggravate an already dangerous situation even more.