Analysts say US military’s warnings of rising threat reflect deterioration in US-China ties rather than any real change.
China has said it will “never tolerate” foreign intervention in issues related to Taiwan, a self-ruled democratic island that China claims as its own, after Taiwan reported the largest ever incursion into its airspace of Chinese aircraft, and Beijing sent more ships to the South China Sea.
At least 28 Chinese air force aircraft, including fighters and nuclear-capable bombers, entered Taiwan’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ) on Tuesday, the government in Taiwan said.
The incident came after the Group of Seven leaders issued a joint statement on Sunday criticising China on a range of issues and reiterating the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.
Asked at a news conference on Wednesday whether the military activity was related to the G7 statement, Ma Xiaoguang, spokesman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, blamed Taiwan’s government for the tensions.
Beijing has been increasing pressure on the island since Tsai Ing-wen first became president in 2016 and believes the island’s government is working with foreign countries to seek formal independence.
“We will never tolerate attempts to seek independence or wanton intervention in the Taiwan issue by foreign forces, so we need to make a strong response to these acts of collusion,” Ma said.
Taiwan has complained over the last few months of repeated missions by China’s air force near the island, mainly in the southwestern part of its air defence zone near the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands.
However, this time not only did the Chinese aircraft fly in an area close to the Pratas Islands, but the bombers and some of the fighters flew around the southern part of Taiwan near the bottom tip of the island, according to Taiwan’s defence ministry.
The fly-by happened on the same day the US Navy said a carrier group led by the USS Ronald Reagan had entered the disputed South China Sea.
“The Ronald Reagan Strike group did not interact with any Chinese military aircraft,” Carrier Strike Group 5 spokesperson, Lieutenant Commander Joe Keiley said in an emailed statement responding to questions on whether the Chinese aircraft had approached them.
“During the strike group’s South China Sea operations, all communications between ships and aircraft have been consistent with international norms and have not impacted our operations.”
A senior official familiar with Taiwan’s security planning told Reuters news agency that it is believed China wanted to send a message to the United States as the carrier group sailed through the Bashi Channel, which separates Taiwan from the Philippines and leads into the South China Sea.
“It’s strategic intimidation of the US military. They wanted the United States to notice their capability and for them to restrain their behaviour,” the official said.
Taiwan needs to pay attention to the fact that China’s military has started conducting drills in Taiwan’s southeastern ADIZ (air defence identification zone), they added.
This “to a certain degree was targeting our deployments in the east and increasing air defence pressure around our ADIZ”, the source said.
Taiwan’s east coast is home to two major airbases with hangers dug out of the side of mountains to provide protection in the event of a Chinese assault.
#Chinese warships in the South China Sea in early June. 1st view shows Type 901 supply ship CHAGANHU 967 with Type 052D #destroyer NANNING 162; CHAGANHU commissioned late 2018, NANNING in May 2021. Last view shows Type 071 amphibious ship QILIANSHAN 985, also commissioned in May pic.twitter.com/ltNnvZdpiV
— Chris Cavas (@CavasShips) June 16, 2021
In recent days, China has also deployed surveillance forces in the disputed South China Sea waters.
The US military recently reported Chinese spy ships at Spratly’s Fiery Cross Reef, which is considered the most advanced of the Chinese bases in the vast maritime area.
Chinese maritime patrols were also seen in the area, as well as air patrol vessels on the reef’s airfield.
Supply, destroyer and amphibious vessels were also reported in the South China Sea in recent weeks, according to reports and social media posts.