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US fears China will launch no-fly zone over Taiwan before Pelosi visit

Chinese state-run media threatens to send warplanes to 'accompany' Pelosi's flight over Taiwan

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PLAAF Chengdu J-10 fighter jets fly in formation. (Reuters photo)

PLAAF Chengdu J-10 fighter jets fly in formation. (Reuters photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The Biden administration said China may try to impose a no-fly zone over Taiwan to prevent the visit of U.S. Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi.

Meanwhile, Chinese state-run media is claiming that People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) warplanes would "accompany" Pelosi's flight over Taiwan, setting a precedent for routine Chinese military flights over Taiwan.

The Financial Times on Tuesday (July 19) cited six sources as saying Pelosi will head a delegation that will visit Taiwan in August. When asked by the media to comment on Pelosi's trip on Wednesday (July 20), Biden said, "Well, I think that the military thinks it’s not a good idea right now."

At Pelosi's weekly press conference on Thursday (July 21), she refused to confirm or deny a reported trip to Taiwan describing her travel plans as a "security issue." However, Pelosi indicated the U.S. military had expressed concerns that her plane "would get shot down" by Chinese forces as it neared Taiwan airspace.

A Biden administration official was on Friday (July 22) cited by CNN as saying that China could try to impose a no-fly zone over Taiwan in an attempt to sabotage Pelosi's visit. The official said another possible response by China to Pelosi's trip could be much deeper incursions into Taiwan's air defense identification zone (ADIZ), "which could trigger a response from Taiwan and the U.S." — although the official did not specify what the response would involve.

The imposition of a no-fly zone over Taiwan by the PLAAF would be an unprecedented military escalation, as China has never before imposed a no-fly zone over Taiwan. Although Taiwan's air force is substantially smaller than China's, it still possesses over 400 combat aircraft and the U.S.-made Patriot missile air defense system, plus the domestically-produced Tien-Kung (Sky Bow) II and III long range surface-to-air missiles (SAM).

Imposition of a no-fly zone would likely lead to direct military conflict because the PLAAF would need to somehow destroy Taiwan's hundreds of fighter jets and SAM systems.

Although Chinese warplanes frequently harass the outer edges of Taiwan's ADIZ, they have not penetrated Taiwan's territorial airspace, which extends 12 nautical miles (22 kilometers) from Taiwan's coast. A deeper incursion into the ADIZ or violating Taiwan's territorial airspace, would also likely lead to combat with Taiwan's fighter jets and trigger SAM launches.

On Tuesday, China's state-run Global Times warned that PLAAF warplanes could "accompany" Pelosi's aircraft as it flew into Taiwan's airspace. As her plane lands, Global Times claimed, the PLAAF warplanes could then "skim over her landing site, and then fly over the island and return to the Chinese mainland."

It added there would be a "low probability of causing a direct military confrontation," without explaining why the risk of conflict was low. The author then claimed the fact that Chinese warplanes had successfully flown directly over Taiwan would be an "even more landmark precedent than Pelosi's visit to Taiwan" and that it would open up a "whole new space for PLA warplanes to exercise sovereignty over the Taiwan island."