CHINA: For nearly seven decades, the imagined line running down the Taiwan Strait, dividing the two nations of China and Taiwan, has successfully maintained peace. However, as China mobilizes its naval prowess further in the wake of escalating tensions, the imaginary line becomes increasingly meaningless.
China has never officially recognized the line a U.S. general devised in 1954 in the wake of the Cold War hostility between Communist China and US-backed Taiwan. However, the People’s Liberation Army largely respected the imaginary boundary.
Now Taiwan is bracing itself for pushback from China as Chinese naval vessels and modernized artillery warships make their rounds near the Taiwan Strait post-U.S. Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei three weeks ago.
One Taiwanese official who is familiar with regional security preparations stated that “they want to put more pressure on us with the ultimate goal of us giving up the median line.”
Due to the subject’s sensitive nature, the official who wished to remain unnamed said, “They want to make that a fact.”
Some Taiwanese officials assert that it would be “impossible” for the island to abandon the concept of a buffer that the line represents.
Foreign Minister Joseph Wu spoke to reporters at a news conference this month and revealed that a change in the status quo could not be tolerated under any circumstances.
Wu said that to maintain peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, “We need to join forces with like-minded partners to ensure that the median line is still there.”
Other security officials say it would be challenging to deal with the situation near the Strait without significantly escalating the tensions. However, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has consistently maintained that her country will not resort to further provocations of escalations in the conflict.
In case Chinese forces penetrate Taiwanese territory beyond the imaginary boundary, Taiwan would be compelled to react militarily, said a Taiwan official. However, in the meantime, there was no immediate plan to urge the military or coast guard to take action.
It is to be emphasized that the situation remains questionable if Taiwan’s allies will help maintain the line or if international support for the island nation is enough to prevent China from patrolling the water lines.
The median line of the Taiwan Strait, which is about 40 kilometres (25 miles) from Taiwan’s waters, is about 180 kilometres (110 miles) wide at its narrowest point.
Taiwanese officials warn that a fortified Chinese naval presence near Taiwan’s territorial waters would tax Taiwan’s military and simplify any Chinese blockade or invasion.
The median line has no specific features marking it. For years, China acknowledged it until 2020, when a foreign ministry spokesperson claimed it “did not exist”. That was eventually echoed by its defence ministry and Taiwan Affairs Council.
In recent months, China has begun playing a sneaky cat-and-mouse game near the Strait line, sending fighter jets close to the border, albeit going only a short way over.
The “overthrowing” of the median line consensus, according to Chieh Chung, a security analyst with the National Policy Foundation think tank in Taipei, has raised the possibility of unintentional conflict.
Chieh said that security and authority guidelines must be reviewed to give more power to Taiwan’s coast guard and military in reacting to complex challenges by Chinese forces.
U.S. warships near the Strait line have intended to maintain peace between the two geopolitical nations, much to the chagrin of China, which refuses U.S. interference in its internal matters.
It’s an imaginary line that’s symbolic and intended to poke Taiwan in the eye a little, a U.S. official who asked to remain anonymous told Reuters.
According to Christopher Twomey, a researcher at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in California, the U.S. views the border as a “political artefact” rather than a legal one. He added that the international waterway between the nations should be maintained for peaceful purposes and that the dangers should not be overstated.
“Mere Chinese presence on either side of arbitrary lines within that area is not likely to lead to any operational response,” Twomey said.