Protesting China’s Use of Civilian Aircraft as Shields, Condemning the Cowardly Behavior of the People’s Liberation Army on Route M503

On September 24th, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) aircraft flew from south to north along the M503 route, deliberately using Cathay Pacific civilian aircraft in flight as a cover to confuse the identification apparatuses of our military. On October 12th, various organizations, including the Economic Democracy Union, went to the China Eastern Airlines office in Taipei to express their protest to the Chinese government, condemning the dangerous actions of the PLA and the Chinese government’s abandonment of its commitment to not use the M503 route for military purposes. Subsequently, they delivered a letter to the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association, urging East Asian countries to jointly condemn the incident and requesting the International Civil Aviation Organization to investigate this event and reconsider the retention of the M503 route.

Chen You-wei: The Chinese government had broke its commitment to the non-military use of the M503 route.

Chen You-wei, Organizational Director of the Economic Democracy Union, stated that according to records from the Taiwan ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone) Facebook page, on the morning of September 24th at 8:30 AM, the Chinese Y-9 communication and command aircraft flew from south to north along the M503 route west of the Taiwan Strait. It coincided in position with Cathay Pacific flight CX366 (although at different altitudes), attempting to use the civilian aircraft as a cover to confuse our identification. Military expert Liao Hong-hsiang warned that the part of the M503 route closest to Taipei is approximately 60 nautical miles away, and if disguised Chinese military aircraft were to make a turn, within minutes, they could potentially achieve a surprise landing at Songshan Airport.

Over eight years ago, China’s unilateral establishment of the M503 route in the Taiwan Strait sparked widespread opposition in Taiwanese society. The Economic Democracy Union had previously protested at China Southern Airlines, exposing the military intentions behind the Chinese government’s actions. At that time, Che Jin-jun, then director of the Air Traffic Management Bureau of China Civil Aviation Administration, stated, “This route is a peaceful air route between the two sides of the strait” while Ma Xiao-guang, the spokesperson for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, also said, “This route has no military considerations and should not be subject to unscientific assumptions.” At then, the Chinese government even promised that the M503 route would only be used for northbound flights and, in cases of adverse weather or emergencies, would veer to the right, away from the Taiwan Strait median line as per convention. Those words are still fresh in memory, but astonishingly, in 2018, the Chinese government reneged on its commitments and unilaterally decided to use the northbound M503 route (flying from south to north), which, in cases of emergency right veering, would bring it closer to the Taiwan Strait median line. Furthermore, they have now dispatched military aircraft to fly along the M503 route, completely betraying their promise not to use it for military purposes.

In this instance, the use of civilian aircraft routes by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army aircraft, deliberately confusing the identification of military and civilian aircraft, is an extremely dangerous behavior. There have been several international cases where civilian aircraft were tragically mistaken for military aircraft, leading to unfortunate incidents. For example, in July 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down by a Russian Buk missile while flying over territory controlled by pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine. In September 1983, Korean Air Flight 007 took off from Anchorage, Alaska, bound for Seoul, South Korea, but deviated from its route and was mistakenly identified by the Soviet Air Force as a U.S. RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft, leading to its destruction. We must strongly condemn the actions of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, which use civilian aircraft as shields, exhibiting a dangerous and cowardly behavior.

Ou Hsu-shao: Through the Economic Democracy Union’s four demands, we call upon all East Asian countries to join together in making a collective statement.

Ou Hsu-shao, researcher of the Economic Democracy Union stated that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s use of civilian aircraft as shields not only heightens tension in the East Asian region, but also poses a threat to civil aviation safety. It is unquestionably a cowardly behavior. The Economic Democracy Union’s visit to the China Eastern Airlines Taiwan branch today is aimed at expressing the protest of Taiwan’s civil society. They will subsequently submit a letter to the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association, urging East Asian countries along the M503 route, including Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia, Thailand, the United States, and others, to jointly support the following four demands:

  1. Condemnation of the dangerous behavior of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in using civilian aircraft as cover.
  2. Condemnation of the Chinese government’s violation of its commitments by using the M503 route for military purposes.
  3. The International Civil Aviation Organization should conduct an investigation into this incident.
  4. The International Civil Aviation Organization should convene consultations involving relevant countries, including Taiwan, to discuss the retention or removal of the M503 route.

Press Conference Information |
Organizer: Taiwan Economic Democracy Union
Chen You-wei (Organizational Director, Economic Democracy Union)
Ou Hsu-shao (Researcher, Economic Democracy Union)
Co-Organizers: Taiwan Citizen Front, Taiwan Association for Human Rights, Covenants Watch
Date: October 12, 2023 (Thursday)
Time: 10:00 AM

Venue: China Eastern Airlines Taiwan Branch (No. 2, Section 3, Minsheng East Road, southeast side of the intersection with Jianguo North Road), followed by a walk to the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association (No. 28, Qingcheng Street) to deliver the letter (estimated arrival time at around 10:40 AM).


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