TAIPEI (REUTERS, AFP) - A total of 39 Chinese air force aircraft entered Taiwan's air defence zone on Saturday (Oct 2), the Defence Ministry in Taipei said, setting a new high for missions that have infuriated the island's government and further raised tensions with Beijing.
Taiwan has complained for more than a year of repeated missions near the island by China's air force, often in the south-western part of its air defence zone close to the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands.
Beijing regards Taiwan, a democratically governed island, as a renegade province to be reunified with the mainland, by force if necessary.
Taiwanese fighters scrambled against the 39 Chinese aircraft in two waves on Saturday, the Taiwan Defence Ministry said. The island sent combat aircraft to warn away the Chinese aircraft, while missile systems were deployed to monitor them.
The number of Chinese aircraft encountered on Saturday was one more than the day before, Oct 1, when China marked its national day, which was at the time already more planes than Beijing had ever sent to harry Taiwan's air defence zone.
Taiwan's Defence Ministry said that on Saturday, the Chinese aircraft first came during the day - 20 of them. They were followed later in the night by a further 19. Most were J-16 and Su-30 fighters.
The aircraft flew near the Pratas, the ministry said.
It also said that China sent another 16 flights near the island on Sunday.
Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang condemned China for its actions on Saturday, saying the country was engaging in military aggression and damaging regional peace.
China has yet to comment. It has previously said such flights were to protect the country's sovereignty and aimed against "collusion" between Taiwan and the United States, the island's most important international backer.
"The United States is very concerned by the People's Republic of China's provocative military activity near Taiwan, which is destabilising, risks miscalculations, and undermines regional peace and stability," US State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement on Sunday (Oct 3). "We urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure and coercion against Taiwan."
Taiwan will mark its national day on Sunday (Oct 10), with a major speech by President Tsai Ing-wen and a military parade that will include a fly-by of fighter jets.
Beijing has stepped up pressure to try to force Taiwan to accept Chinese sovereignty. Taiwan says it will defend its freedom and democracy.