Taiwan said on it was “on alert” over China’s “over the top” military manoeuvres, after Beijing flew a record 56 fighter planes towards the self-governing island in a third day of sustained military intimidation.
The first sortie on Monday of 52 planes included 34 J-16 fighter jets and 12 H-6 bombers, among other aircraft, according to Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defence. Later, four more Chinese J-16s flew towards the southwestern part of Taiwan’s air defence identification zone, a buffer outside a country’s airspace.
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The Taiwanese air force scrambled its fighter planes and monitored the movement of the Chinese warplanes on its air defence system, the ministry said.
Premier Su Tseng-chang said Taiwan needed to be on alert and that China’s actions risked regional peace and stability.
“Taiwan must be on alert. China is more and more over the top,” Su told reporters in Taipei. “The world has also seen China’s repeated violations of regional peace and pressure on Taiwan.”
Taiwan needs to “strengthen itself” and come together as one, he added.
“Only then will countries that want to annex Taiwan not dare to easily resort to force. Only when we help ourselves can others help us.”
Taiwan has reported 148 Chinese airforce planes entering the southern and southwestern part of its air defence zone since China celebrated its National Day on October 1.
On Monday, foreign minister Joseph Wu worried about the risk of conflict.
“We are very concerned that China is going to launch a war against Taiwan at some point, even though the threat may not be imminent at this point,” Wu said in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corp broadcast on Monday.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has made modernising the armed forces a priority, enhancing its capacity for asymmetric warfare, which is designed to make any Chinese attack difficult and costly, for example with smart mines and portable missiles. She is also overseeing improvements to the island’s air force.
In an article for the US magazine Foreign Affairs released on Tuesday, Tsai said Taiwan falling to China would trigger “catastrophic” consequences for peace in Asia.
While Taiwan does not want military confrontation, “if its democracy and way of life are threatened, Taiwan will do whatever it takes to defend itself,” she wrote.
The Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), Taiwan’s top China policy-making body, accused Beijing of “seriously damaging the status quo of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait” with its recent larger incursions.
“We demand the Beijing authorities immediately stop its non-peaceful and irresponsible provocative actions,” MAC spokesman Chiu Chui-cheng said in a statement.
“China is the culprit for causing tensions between the two sides of the [Taiwan] Strait and it has further threatened regional security and order,” he added, saying Taiwan “will never compromise and yield” to threats.
China claims democratically-ruled Taiwan as its own territory and has not ruled out the use of force to bring the island under its control. It has increasingly sought to isolate Tsai’s administration since she was first elected in 2016.
The defeated nationalist forces fled to Taiwan and set up a government there in 1949 after losing the civil war to the communists who set up the People’s Republic of China.
The Republic of China, the official name for Taiwan, continued to hold China’s seat at the United Nations until November 1971 when the PRC achieved UN recognition. Beijing has since opposed Taiwan’s involvement in the UN and international organisations and alliances.
Taiwan announced on September 23 that it had applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, a week after China submitted its own application to join the trade pact.
On October 1, the People’s Liberation Army sent 38 warplanes into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone and 39 aircraft on Saturday, previously the most in a single day since Taiwan began releasing reports on the flights in September 2020. China sent an additional 16 planes on Sunday.
Over the weekend, US Department of State spokesperson Ned Price warned that China’s military activity near Taiwan risks miscalculation and undermines regional peace and stability.
“We urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure and coercion against Taiwan,” the statement said.
The US does not have diplomatic ties with Taiwan, but is the island’s main backer.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday criticised the US over its ties with Taipei, saying that selling weapons to Taiwan, as well as US ships navigating the Taiwan Strait, was “provocative action that harmed US-China relations.
“China will take all necessary countermeasures and resolutely crush any ‘Taiwan independence’ plot,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said in a statement.