TAIPEI (AFP, REUTERS) - Taiwan blasted China's fighter jet incursions as "self-defeating" as 15 more of Beijing's planes crossed into the island's air defence zone on Wednesday (April 7).
Taiwan's defence ministry said it scrambled aircraft to broadcast warning messages to the latest incursion, which included 12 Chinese fighters.
China has ramped up the use of such drills to record levels over the past year as a way to pile pressure on Taiwan which it sees as a breakaway province to be reunified, by force if necessary.
The latest incursion comes as Taiwan mourns its worst train crash in decades, which killed 50 people and prompted a rare message of condolence from Chinese President Xi Jinping.
But Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu accused Beijing on Wednesday of sending "very mixed signals" by offering sympathy for the train crash while buzzing the island with its fighter jets.
"I would say that the policy is self-defeating," Mr Wu told reporters. "It's not going to meet the purpose of the Chinese government whether they want to win hearts and minds of the Taiwanese people or they are going to intimidate the Taiwanese people."
Democratic and self-ruled Taiwan lives under the constant threat of invasion by China. And the sabre-rattling has increased dramatically since Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen won election in 2016, as she rejects the idea that the island is part of "one China".
Last year, Chinese jets made a record 380 incursions into Taiwan's Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ).
Some analysts and US military officials have warned that tensions are now at their highest since the mid-1990s.
Mr Wu said there was little sign that China was willing to dial down its incursions since US President Joe Biden took office.
"If you count the number of the Chinese aircraft coming into our ADIZ for this year, it's already a significant increase from the same period last year," he said.
On Wednesday, the US Navy said its John S. McCain guided missile destroyer conducted a “routine” transit of the Taiwan Strait.
China’s Eastern Theatre Command said it tracked the ship and denounced the United States for “endangering the peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait”.
In Washington, US State Department spokesman Ned Price was asked about the Chinese activity and Mr Wu’s comments and said the US noted with “great concern” a pattern of ongoing Chinese intimidation efforts in the region, including towards Taiwan.
Mr Price reiterated past statements that the US commitment to Taiwan is “rock solid” and added: “As reflected in the Taiwan Relations Act, the United States maintains the capacity to resist any resort to force, or other forms of coercion, that would jeopardise the security or the social or economic system of the people on Taiwan.”
Speaking earlier on Wednesday, Mr Wu said the US was concerned about the risk of conflict.
“From my limited understanding of American decision makers watching developments in this region, they clearly see the danger of the possibility of China launching an attack against Taiwan,” he told reporters at his ministry.
“We are willing to defend ourselves without any questions and we will fight the war if we need to fight the war. And if we need to defend ourselves to the very last day we will defend ourselves to the very last day," he said.
Taiwan's ageing fighter fleet has suffered a string of fatal accidents in recent years as its air force is kept under constant pressure by China.
Last month, the air force temporarily grounded all aircraft for training and exercises after a pilot was killed and another went missing when their F-5E fighter jets had a suspected mid-air collision.
China has long used military and civilian vessels to encroach on the territories of its neighbours, dubbed "grey zone" tactics.
The Philippines has been rattled in recent weeks by the sudden appearance of more than 200 Chinese vessels off a disputed reef.
"The like-minded countries in this part of the world need to be aware of the expansionism of the Chinese government," Mr Wu warned.