Taiwan again scrambles jets against China planes

A US-made F-16V fighter jet with its armaments on display during an exercise at a military base in Chiayi, southern Taiwan, on Jan 15, 2020.
A US-made F-16V fighter jet with its armaments on display during an exercise at a military base in Chiayi, southern Taiwan, on Jan 15, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

TAIPEI • Taiwan's air force scrambled warplanes for a second day in a row yesterday to intercept Chinese jets that approached the island claimed by Beijing as its own, as tensions between the two sides took on a potentially dangerous military dimension.

Taiwan's Defence Ministry said Chinese jets, accompanying H-6 bombers, briefly crossed an unofficial mid-line in the Taiwan Strait that separates the two, prompting its air force to rush to intercept and warn the Chinese to leave.

The Chinese aircraft then withdrew to the western side of the line, the ministry added, without identifying the jets.

The H-6s were on a training mission in the Pacific having passed through the Bashi Channel that separates Taiwan from the Philippines, the ministry said and shared a picture of a Taiwan F-16 accompanying one of the H-6 bombers.

China has been flying what it calls "island encirclement" drills on-off since 2016 when Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen first took office. Beijing believes Ms Tsai, who won re-election last month, wishes to push the island's formal independence.

On Sunday too, Chinese jets, including J-11 fighters, flew into the Bashi Channel and then out into the Pacific before heading back to base via the Miyako Strait, located between Japan's islands of Miyako and Okinawa. According to Taiwan's official Central News Agency, the F-16s scrambled on Sunday carried live missiles.

There was no immediate comment from China on yesterday's incident. This is only the second time since 2016 that Taiwan has said Chinese jets had crossed the strait's median line. Their military aircraft tend to keep to their own sides.

The Taiwan Affairs Office of China, though, urged Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party "not to play with fire".

China's Eastern Theatre Command described Sunday's fly-by of the military's combat-ready patrol as a "completely legitimate and necessary action aimed at the current situation in the Taiwan Strait and safeguarding national sovereignty".

 

The latest fly-bys came as Taiwan's vice-president elect, Mr William Lai, was returning from a visit to Washington. China has denounced Mr Lai's trip.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 11, 2020, with the headline 'Taiwan again scrambles jets against China planes'. Print Edition | Subscribe