Why China Is Playing a Game of Aerial 'Chicken' with Taiwan

November 9, 2021 Topic: Chinese Military Region: Asia Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: ChinaTaiwanADIZMilitary ExercisesSouth China Sea

Why China Is Playing a Game of Aerial 'Chicken' with Taiwan

These operations are a small part of Beijing’s regular military activity near Taipei, which has increased in recent months.


A group of twenty Chinese Shenyang J-16 twinjet airplanes and Chengdu J-10 fighter jets have intruded into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) within the past few days.   

Taiwan News recently reported that ten of the J-16 twinjet airplanes and six of the J-10 fighter jets “infringed on Taiwan’s ADIZ.” The English-language news organization cited Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense and noted that these aircraft were followed by another four twinjet airplanes committing the same violation. 

These provocations are not new. The scope, size and persistence of these most recent provocations may constitute an escalation of concern though. Is an invasion or hostile military annexation of Taiwan imminent? The Defense Department’s new report on the People’s Republic of China (PRC) refers to a “greater urgency” for preparing a contingency plan to counter the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) hostile actions. 

“The PRC conducting persistent military operations near Taiwan—and training for a Taiwan contingency—likely signals a greater urgency for the PLA to continue to develop and perfect its strategy and capabilities should PRC leaders look to a military option to achieve their objectives,” according to the Defense Department’s 2021 report on Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China

Taiwan’s air force sent combat air patrols up in the air to broadcast radio warnings each time and was reportedly tracking them with land-based anti-aircraft missiles, according to Taiwan News. These operations are a small part of China’s regular military activity near Taiwan, which has increased in recent months. Last month, as many as thirty-eight Chinese warplanes violated Taiwan’s ADIZ. A record number of fifty-six airplanes breached the area too.

This trend extends over numerous months. During that time, China conducted large-scale amphibious warfare training, preparations and drills in the vicinity of Taiwan and sent a two-carrier-strong contingent into the area and the nearby South China Sea. Some people believe that Taiwan’s defenses are insufficient to repel a rapid, large-scale military takeover by China.

Additionally, U.S. forces might not be able to respond fast enough. Still, there are a few reasons why China might not ultimately prevail in a Taiwan takeover military campaign. The United States maintains a large presence in the region. Also, Japan is nearby and is aggressively building up its military capacity.

Furthermore, Taiwan has a substantial military capability. The Taiwanese military has missile systems, fighter jets, surface-to-air defenses, and it is in the process of upgrading its submarines. It will also likely have Abrams tanks to repel or slow down an amphibious landing. 

Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.  

Image: Reuters