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Taiwan condemns new Chinese aviation routes as safety threats

China steps up patrols around outlying Taiwan islands
Image: Flags of Taiwan and China

China activated two aviation routes on Friday that run close to Taiwan’s outlying islands of Kinmen and Matsu, officials said, with Taipei condemning the “unilateral measures” as a threat to flight safety.

China’s civil aviation authority announced in January it was introducing changes to flights headed south along the M503 route through the Taiwan Strait, which it said would improve efficiency in a congested area.

The move drew condemnation from self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims as part of its territory, with the defence ministry saying the new routes could lead to “an escalation in tensions”.

China’s aviation authority said two connecting lines on route M503, described as W122 and W123, “will be activated from west to east”.

Route M503 sparked an outcry in Taiwan when it was launched by China in 2015 because of its proximity to the median line that runs through the Taiwan Strait.

China does not recognise the median line.

“This optimisation of the airspace… will help meet the development needs of air transportation between the Yangtze River Delta and Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau, as well as the southeastern coastal areas,” China’s aviation authority said.

It also said the “arrival and departure airspace of Fuzhou Changle Airport will be further optimised and adjusted” on May 16.

That will be four days before Taiwan inaugurates incoming president Lai Ching-te, whom China has called a “dangerous separatist”.

Fuzhou Changle Airport is about 30 kilometres (20 miles) from Taiwan’s Matsu islands.

Taiwan’s Civil Aviation Administration said it received notice about the activation of the new routes on Thursday and expressed “solemn protest against China’s unilateral measures without consultation”.

It said the new routes were less than three nautical miles from the terminal airspace on Matsu and Kinmen islands.

“The airspace separation between the two sides is very narrow… If there is bad weather or abnormal flight operations, risks of flight safety will be significantly increased,” it said.

The Taiwanese authority said it “would strongly request the Chinese air traffic control unit” reroute any aircraft that approached its airspace on the new routes “to ensure the safety of civil aircraft operations”.

China has said it will not renounce the use of force to bring democratic Taiwan under its control. There has been an increase in tensions in the past few years under the administration of President Tsai Ing-wen, who does not acknowledge Beijing’s claim over Taiwan.

Lai, her deputy, won elections in January despite warnings from Beijing that he would be the cause of “war and decline” for Taiwan.

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Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. Founded in 1835 as Havas, it is the world's oldest news agency.

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