RELUCTANT RESPONSE: Several ICAO members have spoken up and overseas offices are asking other nations to refrain from using the controversial route, a source said
By Stacy Hsu / Staff reporter
The government has made its stance on China’s unilateral activation of northbound flights on aviation route M503 known to the International Civil Aviation Organization （ICAO） personally and via several diplomatic allies, but has yet to receive a response, a government source with knowledge of the matter said.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue, said Beijing was required by ICAO regulations to coordinate with affected parties before launching new routes, but it failed to do so before unilaterally activating northbound flights on M503 and three new extension routes — W121, W122 and W123 — along China’s southeast coast on Thursday last week.
Under Item 4.2.6 of the ICAO’s Air Traffic Services Planning Manual, changes to any route should be made only after it has been coordinated with all parties concerned.
“The ICAO has been made aware of the matter... However, the organization is reluctant to intervene, but we still have to let our stance be known,” the source said, adding that as Taiwan is not a member of the UN agency on civil aviation matters, “our voice can hardly be heard.”
Asked whether the government planned to take further action, the source said that several ICAO member states friendly to Taiwan have spoken out in its favor, but declined to reveal whether he was referring to the US and Japan.
“We have also notified all our representative offices overseas to relay the government’s hope to other nations that their airlines refrain from using the controversial M503 route,” the source added.
Due to Chinese pressure, Taiwan has been excluded from the triennial ICAO assembly, except in 2013, when warmer cross-strait ties under then-president Ma Ying-jeou （馬英九） paved way for the nation’s attendance at the conference as a “guest.”
In January 2015, after receiving approval from the ICAO, China announced the activation of the M503 route — which, at its nearest point, is 7.8km from the Taiwan Strait’s median line — and the three extension routes, prompting protests from Taipei.
Following cross-strait negotiations an agreement was reached in March 2015 that China would only operate southbound flights on M503 and put the launch of the three extension routes on hold.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Andrew Lee （李憲章） yesterday told a news conference in Taipei that as the matter pertains to aviation routes, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications was in close contact with the ICAO.
“As a news release issued after a national security meeting chaired by President Tsai Ing-wen （蔡英文） on Sunday stated, the foreign ministry should initiate international campaigns and engage with foreign governments to secure the support of other nations and win the battle for international public opinion,” Lee said. “We will continue with such efforts.”