Taiwan scrambled jets to warn away 29 Chinese aircraft that entered its air defence zone, including bombers that flew to the south of the island and into the Pacific.
The incursion by Chinese warplanes on Tuesday is the latest uptick in tensions between Taipei and Beijing and marks the largest air defence zone violation by China since late May.
The latest Chinese mission included 17 fighters and six H-6 bombers, as well as electronic warfare, early warning, anti-submarine, and an aerial refuelling aircraft, Taiwan’s defence ministry said.
Taiwan sent fighter aircraft to warn away the Chinese planes, while missile systems were deployed to monitor their route, the ministry said, using standard wording for its response.
Taiwan, a self-ruled island that China claims as its own territory, has complained for more than two years about repeated missions by the Chinese air force in the southwestern part of its air defence identification zone, or ADIZ, close to the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands.
Some of the Chinese aircraft flew in an area to the northeast of the Pratas, according to a map the ministry of defence provided. The bombers, accompanied by an electronic warfare and an intelligence gathering aircraft, flew into the Bashi Channel, which separates Taiwan from the Philippines, and then into the Pacific before turning back to China.
It was the largest air zone incursion since Taiwan reported 30 Chinese aircraft entering its ADIZ on May 30. The largest this year occurred in January and involved 39 aircraft.
‘Grey zone’ warfare
Taiwan calls such military activities by China “grey zone” warfare – designed to both wear out Taiwanese forces by making them repeatedly scramble, and also to test Taiwanese responses.
There was no immediate comment from China, which has in the past said that such moves were drills aimed at protecting the country’s sovereignty.
China launched its third aircraft carrier on Friday, the Fujian, named after the province opposite Taiwan.
China’s military conducted an exercise around Taiwan last month that it said was a “solemn warning” against the democratically-run island’s “collusion” with the United States.
That came after US President Joe Biden angered China by appearing to signal a change in Washington’s policy of “strategic ambiguity” on Taiwan by saying that the US would become involved militarily if China were to attack the island.
China has stepped up pressure on Taiwan to accept its sovereignty claims. The Taipei government says it wants peace but will defend itself if attacked.
The final quarter of 2021 witnessed a spike in ADIZ incursions by China, with the biggest single-day breach on October 4 when 56 Chinese warplanes entered the zone.
Chinese aircraft have not entered Taiwan’s air space, but in its ADIZ, a broader area that Taiwan monitors and patrols and that acts to give the island more time to respond to any threats.