China’s military sent planes towards Taiwan on 25 of the 31 days of October, the highest frequency of the antagonistic sorties all year, a Taiwanese monitoring group has said.The report comes as the Taiwanese government seeks to hose down reports that it is concerned at the prospect of Joe Biden becoming the next US president and taking a more conciliatory approach to China than Donald Trump.
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has ratcheted up military activity in and around the Taiwan Strait this year, amid increasing hostilities with Taiwan and the US. Beijing considers Taiwan to be a wayward province and has not ruled out taking it by force.
Citing a local monitoring group, Taiwan’s Liberty Times said the PLA had invaded Taiwan’s air identification zone on at least 25 days last month. Taiwan is building up its defence capabilities to discourage any possible cross-strait conflict, and has spent more than $1bn this year in scrambling jets to respond to the sorties towards and over the so-called “median line” in the Strait. But analysts say the prospect of defending itself against an invasion would rely on outside assistance.
While the US has a longstanding policy of refusing to says if it would come to Taiwan’s aid in the instance of an attack – in order to deter both sides – it has increased its military activity in the region and its arms sales to Taiwan under Trump, amid a broader push back against Chinese dominance in the region.
Taiwan’s government has been forced to reject media reports by the Washington Post that some within the government feared a Biden-led administration would be less supportive of Taiwan. Taiwan’s representative to the US, Hsiao Bi-khim, said on Sunday the government did not take positions on US elections.
“Since arriving in Washington, I have reached out to new friends and old friends in both parties, and I appreciate the bipartisan support and friendship for Taiwan,” she said.
The US stance against Chinese aggression has won Trump support among the Taiwanese public, where a recent YouGov poll found 45% of respondents thought his actions had had a positive impact on their region, while a third thought the impact had been negative. It found Trump was supported by 42% of Taiwanese people compared with Biden’s 30%, the only Asian population polled that supported Trump over Biden.
The US considers Taiwan an important barrier to China’s control in the Indo-Pacific and has increased diplomatic and other support this year, despite not having formal ties. The former US defence official Randall Schriver last month described the island as a “modern-day Asia Fulda Gap”, referring to the region between East and West Germany that was considered the most likely place for a US-Soviet Union Cold War clash.
PJ Crowley, the former assistant secretary of state for public affairs under Barrack Obama, told the Guardian the deterioration of US-China relations was “arguably the most consequential development” in geopolitics during Trump’s term.
“Regardless of who is president come January, there will be an assessment of what has occurred in Hong Kong and what it means for Taiwan,” Crowley said.
“If Vice President Biden wins, he will need to make clear to [China’s president] Xi [Jinping] hat he will become more active with respect to Hong Kong and Taiwan … Maintaining the high-level dialogue with Taipei would be one way to demonstrate that what happens there remains important to the United States.”