04 September 2011

Assessing China’s Response to U.S. Reconnaissance Flights

Kenneth Allen and Jana Allen, Assessing China’s Response to U.S. Reconnaissance Flights,” Jamestown China Brief (2 September 2011).

On June 29, 2011, for the first time in a decade, a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force (PLAAF) J-11 crossed the center line of the Taiwan Strait in an attempted intercept of a U.S. Air Force (USAF) U-2 reconnaissance aircraft conducting a monitoring mission in international airspace. In response, the Taiwan Air Force scrambled two F-16s and sent them to the area. Although Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense reportedly did not consider it a provocative act, the incident generated much discussion about Chinese intentions.  An official at Taiwan’s Air Force Command later claimed the crossing was accidental, but it remains beneficial to consider possible ramifications of similar activity in the future. U.S. reconnaissance flights are not uncommon, and aggressive intercepts on the part of China are not likely to convince the United States to reduce or stop them. On the contrary, they inadvertently could lead to another mid-air accident like the one that briefly derailed U.S.-China relations in 2001. Given the increasing number of civil aircraft flights through the Taiwan Strait, which exceeded 1.2 million flights in 2010, such intercepts threaten the safety, security, and economic prosperity of the Taiwan Strait and East Asia. …