China flew 47 aircraft across the center line of the Taiwan Strait on Sunday, the largest incursion into Taiwan’s air defense zone in recent months, as Beijing intensifies efforts to normalize aggressive military operations around the self-governing island.
Forty-two J-10, J-11, J-16 and Su-30 fighter jets, two Y-8 maritime patrol aircraft, one KJ-500 early warning aircraft, as well as one CH-4 and one WZ conducted the invasion-7 military drones, according to Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense.
A total of 71 Chinese aircraft were spotted around the island, and Taiwan’s military responded by deploying combat air patrol aircraft, naval vessels and land-based missile systems, it added.
According to the Chinese military, the flights were part of a so-called “strike exercise” that followed Friday’s naval drills by a group of Chinese aircraft carriers in the western Pacific near Japan.
China’s ruling Communist Party considers Taiwan — a democratically administered island of 24 million people — part of its territory, although it has never controlled it. It has long vowed to “unify” the island with mainland China by force if necessary.
Tensions around Taiwan have increased markedly this year. A visit to the island by Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, in August angered the Communist Party and immediately led to a barrage of military exercises.
Since then, Beijing has stepped up its military pressure tactics against the island, sending fighter jets across the median line of the Taiwan Strait, drawing the waters separating Taiwan from China into the island’s air defense identification zone — commonly known as the airspace buffer zone as the ADIZ.
For decades, the median line served as an unofficial dividing line between the two, with rare military incursions.
The latest activity came as the Chinese military’s Eastern Theater Command said on Sunday that it conducted joint readiness patrols and “strike drills” around Taiwan in response to “provocations” between Taiwan and the United States, without providing specifics.
“The troops will take all necessary measures to resolutely defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the Eastern Theater Command said.
On Friday, U.S. President Joe Biden signed into law a broad new defense bill that includes establishing a defense modernization plan for Taiwan to deter Chinese aggression.
Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense issued a statement late Sunday in response, saying it was confident in defending its sovereignty. “The Chinese Communist Party’s actions highlight its mentality to resolve differences by force and undermine regional peace and stability,” it said.
“Taiwan’s cooperation with the United States will help maintain a free, open and stable Indo-Pacific region. The military will continue to strengthen military preparations based on enemy threats and self-defense needs.”
In November, Biden met Chinese President Xi Jinping for the first time during his presidency at the G20 summit in Indonesia. Afterwards, Biden called the three-hour meeting “open and candid” and expressed doubts about an imminent invasion of Taiwan.
Formal bilateral talks on climate cooperation are expected to resume as part of a broader agreement between Biden and Xi — talks China had previously suspended in retaliation for Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.
On Friday, China also conducted a series of military drills near Japan’s southern Pacific island of Okinawa, according to Japanese authorities.
The Chinese Navy’s aircraft carrier Liaoning along with two destroyers and a frigate sailed on Dec. 21 about 560 kilometers (about 348 miles) east of Kita Daito Island off the east coast of Okinawa, according to Japan’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. The ships were also sailing some 120 kilometers (74 miles) east of Okinotori Island, further southeast, on Dec. 22.
About 180 carrier-based fighter jets and helicopters took off and landed on the Liaoning on Friday, according to Japan’s Defense Ministry.
The Ministry of Defense of Japan said it sent two frigates to collect intelligence and conduct warning surveillance.
Tensions between China and Japan are also steadily rising, with Beijing adding its navy and air force near Japan. China also has sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands, an uninhabited Japanese-controlled chain in the East China Sea.
Chinese ships routinely sail near the islands, which Japan calls the Diaoyu Islands, and Japan scrambles warplanes almost daily in response to Chinese aircraft approaching its airspace.
Earlier this month, Japan unveiled a new national security plan, marking the country’s largest military buildup since World War II, doubling defense spending and facing growing threats from China, North Korea and Russia time to change its pacifist constitution.