LARGE-SCALE CHINESE military exercises have forced Taiwan's Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) to re-route international air traffic flying from South-East Asia and Hong Kong to the USA, Japan and South Korea.

China closed off a 17,000km2 area in the Straits of Taiwan for navy and air force live-firing exercises. The military manoeuvres come at a time of deteriorating relations between Beijing and Taipei and are meant as a warning against Taiwanese independence.

Aircraft and ships were instructed not to enter the rectangular zone between 12 and 20 March. Taiwan's CAA was forced to divert traffic from the Elato way point, close to the exercise area, to the Geo way-point 28km (15nm) further south.

The detour affected some 300 daily commercial flights using the A1 airway between Northeast Asia, the USA and Southeast Asia, as well as route G581 from Hong Kong, to the southern Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung.

The action follows China's week-long, CSS-6/M-9 surface-to-surface-missile firings, at two target areas close to Taiwan's coastline. Those tests also disrupted air traffic.

The CAA shut down airway R595 between Taiwan, Okinawa and the Pacific Mariana Islands until 15 March. The route passes through a Chinese missile-drop zone, only 32km from the southern Taiwanese port of Keelung.

Traffic was diverted around the target area on to the more northerly route R595. Chinese M-9 missiles were also aimed at a second drop zone, 48km from Taiwan's port of Kaohsiung.

China's military exercises and missile tests have caused Taiwan to place its armed forces on high alert against a possible invasion, either of Taiwan or its islands of Matsu and Kinmen, near the Chinese mainland.

Beijing has about 150,000 soldiers in Fujian, which faces Taiwan. The Chinese air force had moved 300 combat aircraft into the area, including Chengdu F-7 and Shenyang F-8 fighters and Xian H-7 bombers. The US Government had moved the aircraft carrier USS Independence close to Taiwan, and a second carrier group, led by the USS Nimitz, is due in the area.

Source: Flight International