Let’s assume 2015 is the year that Taiwan’s government normally friendly to Beijing starts resisting China instead. President Ma Ying-jeou’s Nationalist Party needs some anti-Communist credits for a shot at the presidency next year after disruptive mass protests and surprising local election losses in 2014. As if to kick off that campaign, Taiwan hoisted its flag in Washington on New Year’s Day for the first time in 36 years, a no-no for the United States as it’s an official diplomatic ally of China. China sees staunchly self-ruled Taiwan as part of its turf, not a state, hence its fuming over the flag and fear here in Taipei about a president that gets too close to it.
The flag-raising was a symbolic act to stoke pride in Taiwan. It’s gone along with the diplomatic furor. Now disputes are moving to the riskier skies and seas of East Asia where the two sides have competing interests. Taiwan usually keeps quiet about these issues to get on with China, leaving the open hostilities to Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines. Not this week.
On Monday Nationalist Party legislator and defence committee head Lin Yu-fang called attention to Beijing’s airstrip on Yongshu Reef in the South China Sea. China built it on landfill over about the past year to allow the 700-meter clearance required for takeoff and landing of its relatively powerful Sukhoi Su-27 fighter jets, Lin says in a statement to media. Those aircraft could scare off any peers from Vietnam, another aggressive maritime landfill builder, and defend an eventual air defense identification zone (ADIZ) that neighbors fear China plans to declare for itself over the 3.5 million-square-kilometer sea claimed by five other governments including Taiwan’s. Much of Asia prizes the sea for fish, shipping lanes and possible undersea fossil fuel reserves. It’s also been described as China’s security backyard. “If the Chinese do deploy fighters in the South China Sea, the reaction from other nations in the region is likely to be very negative,” says Bonnie Glaser, senior adviser for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington. So good on Taiwan for pointing it out, the public as well as neighboring countries – all leery of China – are supposed to think. Ma’s government may react later by adding special armed forces to its biggest South China Sea claim, Taiping Island, says Andrew Yang, former defense minister and a professor at National Sun Yat-sen University in Taiwan. Currently the coast guard defends it.