Taiwan’s military is set to ferry or airlift people back home to the island from mainland China for the upcoming Lunar New Year, after Taipei denied Chinese airlines’ requests for additional cross-Strait flights. Taipei’s move was in retaliation for Beijing’s unilateral addition of a new air route along the Taiwan Strait that could debilitate the island’s air and sea defenses.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Transportation and Communications said on Monday that it had prepared for the worst-case scenario in its plans to help Taiwanese return home. The Lunar New Year’s Day is February 16 this year.
The island’s civil aviation authority denied requests by China’s XiamenAir and China Eastern Airlines for 176 extra flights during the holiday, citing potential safety risks from the use of the northbound M503 route, which was delineated by Beijing at the end of last year without consulting Taipei beforehand.
Taipei has suggested that its citizens on the mainland use Taiwanese airlines or transfer in Hong Kong or Macau after Chinese carriers had to cancel flights.
Taiwanese stranded in mainland China can also go to the coastal city of Xiamen and board ferries to Kinmen, a Taiwanese outpost less than 2 kilometers off the mainland, and fly to Taipei or other cities on domestic flights operated by China Airlines, Taiwan’s flag carrier, as well as EVA Air.
It’s said that the Taiwanese Air Force has been standing by to deploy transport aircraft, including the versatile tactical airlifter C-130 Hercules, to transport tens of thousands of passengers from Kinmen, in what could become the largest civilian airlift operation by the island’s military in peacetime.
It may also be the first time for Taiwan’s heavy-transport aircraft to land on Kinmen, which is well within the range of People’s Liberation Army artillery.
To fend off Chinese spies prying into details of the island’s military deployment during the ad hoc operation, only people holding valid Taiwanese passports or identity cards will be allowed to board the warplanes.