TAIPEI • Taiwan's air force scrambled fighter jets yesterday as Chinese bombers flew around the self-ruled island, just a few hours after Taipei vowed not to be cowed having lost another diplomatic ally amid growing Beijing pressure.
Taiwan is China's most sensitive territorial issue and a potential dangerous military flash point. China claims the island as its sacred territory and has vowed not to allow any attempts at what it views as Taiwan separatism.
Tensions between democratic Taiwan and its big neighbour have increased in recent months, with China suspicious of the administration of President Tsai Ing-wen, whom it thinks wants to push for the island's formal independence.
Ms Tsai, who took office in 2016, says she wants to maintain the status quo, but will protect Taiwan's security and not be bullied by Beijing.
In the latest flight by Chinese aircraft around Taiwan, two H-6 bombers passed through the Bashi Channel, which separates Taiwan from the Philippines, and then rounded Taiwan via Japan's Miyako Strait, to Taiwan's north-east, the island's Defence Ministry said.
Taiwanese aircraft accompanied and monitored the Chinese bombers throughout, the ministry said, describing the Chinese aircraft as being on a long-range training mission. The ministry said the people of Taiwan should not be alarmed as the air force is well able to monitor the Chinese aircraft as they approach and during their missions and can ensure Taiwan's security.
There was no immediate word from China. It has said these missions, which have become increasingly frequent, are to send a warning to Taiwan not to engage in separatist activity.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, Taiwan lost its second diplomatic ally in less than a month when Burkina Faso said it had cut ties with the island. Ms Tsai said Taiwan would not engage in "dollar diplomacy" and would not cower in the face of China's pressure.
Taiwan's Foreign Minister Joseph Wu tendered his resignation after Burkina Faso's announcement, but yesterday said he would stay on in the position, at the President's request.
Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang would not say directly when China would establish ties with Burkina Faso, saying instead that there was nothing surprising about countries wanting to develop normal relations with China.
Taiwan has only one diplomatic ally left in Africa - the tiny kingdom of Swaziland - and formal relations with just 18 countries worldwide, many of them poor countries in Central America and the Pacific, such as Belize and Nauru.
Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, which is in charge of China ties, announced late Thursday that Chinese officials applying to visit the island would be subject to tighter screening, without elaborating.
The move aims to "prevent the Chinese communists from dividing and disturbing social order in Taiwan with their unification propaganda measures", it said in a statement.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE