China opens new air routes near Taiwan islands

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China’s aviation regulator said on Friday it had opened new air routes to the Chinese cities of Xiamen and Fuzhou, routes which are situated very close to the Taiwan-controlled islands of Kinmen and Matsu, a move likely to anger Taipei.

Taiwan expressed anger in January after China “unilaterally” changed a flight path called M503 close to the sensitive median line in the Taiwan Strait. The new routes to Xiamen and Fuzhou connect to the M503 flight route.

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The median line had for years served as an unofficial barrier between Chinese-claimed Taiwan and China, but China says it does not recognise its existence and Chinese warplanes now regularly fly over it as Beijing seeks to pressure Taipei to accept its sovereignty claims.

China had said in January it was opening routes from west to east - in other words, in the direction of Taiwan - on the two flight paths from Xiamen and Fuzhou, but had not until now announced when they would go into operation.

China’s civil aviation regulation said in its brief statement on Friday that those routes were now in operation, adding that from May 16 it will “further optimise” airspace around Fuzhou airport. It did not elaborate.

There was no immediate reaction from Taiwan’s government, which has previously accused China of threatening aviation safety.

Kinmen and Matsu both have regular flights to Taiwan.

Flights to and from Taiwan and China’s Xiamen and Fuzhou take a circuitous route skirting the median line, rather than flying directly across the strait.

Taiwan has complained about the M503 route before, in 2018, when it said China opened the northbound part of it without first informing Taipei in contravention of a 2015 deal to first discuss such flight paths.

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