Taiwan scrambles jets to warn away Chinese planes in its air defence zone

Taiwan calls China’s repeated nearby military activities “grey zone” warfare, designed to test Taiwan's responses and wear out its forces by making them repeatedly scramble. PHOTO: REUTERS

TAIPEI (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - Taiwan scrambled jets on Tuesday (June 21) to warn away 29 Chinese aircraft in its air defence zone, including bombers that flew to the south of the island and into the Pacific, in the latest uptick in tensions and largest incursion since late May.

China views Taiwan as a renegade province to be reunified by force, if necessary. 

Taiwan has complained for the past two years or so of repeated missions by the Chinese air force near the island, often in the south-western part of its air defence identification zone, or ADIZ, close to the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands.

Taiwan calls China's repeated nearby military activities "grey zone" warfare, designed to both wear out Taiwanese forces by making them repeatedly scramble, and also to test Taiwanese responses.

The latest Chinese mission included 17 fighters and six H-6 bombers, as well as electronic warfare, early warning, antisubmarine and an aerial refuelling aircraft, Taiwan's defence ministry said.

Some of the aircraft flew in an area to the north-east of the Pratas, according to a map the ministry provided.

However, the bombers, accompanied by an electronic warfare and an intelligence gathering aircraft, flew into the Bashi Channel which separates Taiwan from the Philippines and into the Pacific before turning back to China on the route they came in.

Taiwan sent combat aircraft to warn away the Chinese aircraft, while missile systems were deployed to monitor them, the ministry said, using standard wording for its response.

It was the largest incursion since Taiwan reported 30 Chinese aircraft in its ADIZ on May 30. The largest to date this year occurred on Jan 23, involving 39 aircraft.

Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said on Wednesday the large-scale exercise by the Chinese military showed China’s military threat is “more serious than ever”.  

“But there’s no way #Taiwan will cave in & surrender its sovereignty & democracy to the big bully. Not a chance!,” Wu said on Twitter. 

A US State Department spokesman told Reuters in an email that Beijing should "cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure and intimidation against Taiwan".

China launched its third aircraft carrier on Friday, the Fujian, named after the province opposite Taiwan.

China's military said last month it had conducted an exercise around Taiwan as a "solemn warning" against its "collusion" with the United States.

That came after US President Joe Biden angered China by appearing to signal a change in a US policy of "strategic ambiguity" on Taiwan by saying the United States would get involved militarily if China were to attack the island.

China has stepped up pressure on Taiwan to accept its sovereignty claims. The Taipei government says it wants peace but will defend itself if attacked.

No shots have been fired and the Chinese aircraft have not been flying in Taiwan's air space, but in its ADIZ, a broader area Taiwan monitors and patrols that acts to give it more time to respond to any threats.

Separately, Taiwan and US officials are convening in Washington this week to discuss arms sales in meetings traditionally characterised as "monetary talks," the Taipei-based United Daily News reported citing unidentified people.

Taiwan National Security Council secretary-general Wellington Koo was set to meet US defence officials, the publication added. 

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin urged the US to stop selling arms to Taiwan on Wednesday at a regular press briefing in Beijing.

“We consistently and firmly oppose US official interactions and arms sales to, and military interactions with, Taiwan,” he added. 

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