Last week, I wrote about the ongoing "air-wars" between Taiwan and China which have culminated in the tit-for-tat spat between the two countries. But one commentator has argued the outcome has been a propaganda victory for the Chinese Communist Party, a viewpoint which simply does not stand up to the facts.
Diplomatic discontent in the skies
The issue first reared its head when Communist China broke an agreement between the two nations and unilaterally reopened four controversial airline routes.
Three of these routes (W121, W122 and W123) crossed existing routes between Taiwan and its outlying islands of Kinmen and Matsu and there posed a serious risk to passengers on both routes. But the most controversial was the M503 northbound route which goes up the Taiwan Strait extremely close to Taiwanese airspace.
The move was clearly an effort to provoke the Taiwanese government. Usually, Taiwan rises above such childish provocations, but on this occasion, there was a reaction when Taiwan’s Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) blocked applications from China Eastern Airlines and Xiamen Air for additional flights over the Lunar New Year period.
The CAA made a decent effort of arguing that this refusal was made on safety grounds. But few people on either side of the Taiwan Straits saw it as anything other than retaliation. The only difference of opinion was on whether or not it was justified.
As I argued last week, the CAA was given very little choice but to retaliate in the circumstances, especially given the hold Communist China seemingly has over the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a supposedly independent body which should really mediate between the two sides in issues like this and make a decision in the best interest of passenger safety.
Desperately seeking a positive spin for China
However, one commentator, Ralph Jennings, writing for Forbes, sees things differently. He attempted to construct an argument that China had won these "air-wars."
Firstly, he made the point that “China as a member of the U.N. International Civil Aviation Administration has already gained formal, international approval for the routes. Taiwan is not a U.N. member.”
He does not, however, feel the need to expand and explain that the only reason that Taiwan is not a U.N. member is because of China’s economic bullying and political intransigence. Taiwan would love to join the UN and to fully participate in bodies like the ICAA. Most other UN members would (unofficially) like them to join too. But China flatly refuses to countenance this as they continue to argue for sovereignty over Taiwan.
With UN bodies such as the ICAA unable to recognize Taiwan, it is inevitable that they will side with China on issues between the two sides. With one side unrepresented, how can there possibly be a fair hearing?
Jennings goes on to say that Taiwan’s response had angered its own people by refusing to authorize the flights over Lunar Year. The decision, he says, has backfired, because China has not responded, leaving the Taiwanese Government looking like the bad guy. To support this claim, he has selectively quoted from the Association of Taiwan Investment Enterprises on the Mainland, a strongly pro-Chinese organization.
China’s inevitable retaliation
The only problem with that argument is that, of course, China has responded. It was announced yesterday that both China Eastern and Xiamen Airlines had canceled more than 200 flights between Beijing and Taipei over the Lunar New Year in response to the refusal to permit more the additional flights they had asked for.
This could leave as many as 50,000 people unable to travel between Taiwan and China over the Lunar New Year period, with both Taiwanese and Chinese flyers affected.
Of course, the Chinese Communist regime does not have to worry about public opinion. As an authoritarian regime, the public only questions the actions of their rulers at their own risk.
So, the tit-for-tat airline spat does indeed continue with the Chinese regime happy to keep ratcheting up the rhetoric and trying to goad the Taiwanese Government into a more forthright response.
The arguments made by commentators like Jennings simply do not stand up to scrutiny. However, it comes as little surprise that he should make them, given his track record of pro-China, anti-Taiwan articles in publications such as Forbes and the LA Times. It is also worth noting that Forbes is now under Chinese ownership too.
In an ideal world, publications of this standing would not provide a platform for such misguided content. But sadly, the world is far from ideal. And as long as the Chinese Communist regime continues its efforts to undermine the democratic Government in Taiwan, there will continue to be media commentators willing to take their side.
The reality is that these "air-wars" are by no means over and it is quite likely that these tit-for-tat reprisals could go on for some time. If the situation continues to snowball, then it could even ultimately lead to the severing of cross-straits flights altogether.
That, of course, would be in no one's best interest. But if the CCP can find a political justification for it, then nothing is impossible. One thing is for sure, it is certainly far too early to call a victory for the Chinese.