Date: September 29, 2020
By: Raul "Pete" Pedrozo
On Sept. 18 and 19, People’s Liberation Army combat aircraft on 40 occasions intentionally crossed the median line in the Taiwan Strait that separates mainland China from the island of Taiwan. Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen immediately condemned the provocation as a “threat of force.”
The center line in the Taiwan Strait (also known as the median line, middle line or Davis Line, named after Brig. Gen. Benjamin Davis, commander of Task Force 13 in Taipei and famed commander of the World War II Tuskegee Airmen) has its origins in the 1954 U.S.-Taiwan Mutual Defense Treaty. The treaty was one link in the chain of U.S. collective defense arrangements in the Western Pacific—which included agreements with the Republic of the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the Republic of Korea—designed to resist further communist subversive activities directed against their territorial integrity and political stability. Pursuant to Article V of the Mutual Defense Treaty, an armed attack in the treaty area, which included Taiwan and the Pescadores (or Penghu) Islands, directed against the territory of either party would be considered a danger “to its own peace and safety” and each party “would act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional processes.” An addendum to the treaty established a buffer zone into which U.S. aircraft were not allowed to enter.
The airspace that encompasses the center line in the Taiwan Strait is international airspace, and so all nations, including China, may exercise high seas freedom of overflight in this area. China is therefore not legally prohibited from crossing the line. However, even though China does not officially recognize the existence of the de facto center line, there has been a tacit understanding on both sides of the strait to respect the unofficial boundary. Since the line was established in 1954, there have been only four reported Chinese military incursions across the line. The first intrusion occurred in July 1999, in response to then-Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui’s declaration that a state-to-state relationship existed between Taiwan and China. In July 2011, two Sukhoi Su-27 fighters briefly crossed the center line when they attempted to intercept a U.S. U-2 reconnaissance plane over the Taiwan Strait. A third incursion occurred in April 2019, when two Chinese Shenyang J-11 fighters crossed the buffer and came within 115 miles of Taiwan before being intercepted by Taiwanese fighters. Then in August 2020, two Chinese air force fighters crossed the center line to protest U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar’s visit to Taipei, the highest-level U.S. official visit to Taiwan since 1979. [FULL STORY]