Taiwan has reported the largest ever incursion by the Chinese air force into its air defence zone, with 38 aircraft flying in two waves as Beijing marked the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
“China has been wantonly engaged in military aggression, damaging regional peace,” Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang told reporters on Saturday morning following the reported incursions.
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Taiwan, which is claimed by China, has complained for a year or more of repeated missions by China’s air force near the democratically governed island, often in the southwestern part of its air defence zone close to the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands.
The Taiwan Defence Ministry first reported on Friday that Taiwanese fighters had scrambled against 25 Chinese fighter jets – 18 J-16s, four Su-30s, two nuclear-capable H-6 bombers and an anti-submarine aircraft.
Then, the ministry said, in the early hours of Saturday a further 13 Chinese aircraft were involved in a mission – 10 J-16s, 2 H-6s and an early warning aircraft.
It said Taiwan sent combat aircraft to warn away the Chinese aircraft, while missile systems were deployed to monitor them.
The first batch of Chinese aircraft all flew close to the Pratas Islands, with the two bombers flying closest to the atoll, according to a map issued by the ministry.
The second group flew down into the Bashi Channel that separates Taiwan from the Philippines, a key waterway that links the Pacific with the disputed South China Sea.
China has yet to comment on its activities. It has previously said such flights were to protect the country’s sovereignty and aimed at “collusion” between Taiwan and the United States, the island’s most important international backer.
The previous largest incursion happened in June, involving 28 Chinese air force aircraft.
China’s latest mission came less than a day after its government launched an attack on Taiwan’s foreign minister, evoking the words of revolutionary leader Mao Zedong to denounce him as a “shrilling fly” for his efforts to promote Taiwan internationally.
China has stepped up military and political pressure to try and force Taiwan to accept Chinese sovereignty.
Taiwan says it is an independent country and will defend its freedom and democracy.