China sends record number of warplanes towards Taiwan

Beijing steps up intimidation ahead of a visit by French politicians to Taipei

Kathrin Hille in Taipei 

Dozens of Chinese J-16 fighters entered Taiwan’s air defence identification zone this weekend © AP

China sent a record number of warplanes into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone on Friday and Saturday ahead of a visit to Taipei by French lawmakers.

The escalation of Beijing’s intimidation against Taipei comes as China endures growing economic pressures while stepping up domestic regulatory and political crackdowns.

According to Taiwan’s defence ministry, 38 military aircraft entered Taiwan’s air defence identification zone on Friday, including 28 J-16 fighters, four SU-30 fighters, four H-6 bombers, an anti-submarine plane and an early warning aircraft.

On Saturday, the Chinese Air Force sent 39 aircraft, including 26 J-16 fighters, 10 SU-30 fighters, two anti-aircraft planes and one early-warning aircraft, Taiwan’s defence ministry said. 

On both days, the numbers markedly exceeded the daily record of 28 planes, which was set in June.

Some 16 Chinese military aircraft entered the zone on Sunday, including 12 fighters.

Military experts define the incursions as grey zone tactics, operations aimed at eroding Taiwan’s security but stopping short of war. 

China claims Taiwan as its territory and threatens to invade it if Taipei refuses to submit to its control indefinitely.

The Taiwanese government on Saturday denounced the latest incursions. 

“China has been wantonly engaged in military aggression, damaging regional peace,” said Su Tseng-chang, the premier.

The US said it was “very concerned by the People’s Republic of China’s provocative military activity near Taiwan”, adding that it undermined regional stability.

“We urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure and coercion against Taiwan,” said Ned Price, state department spokesperson. 

“The US commitment to Taiwan is rock solid.”

Last week, Beijing described Joseph Wu, the Taiwanese foreign minister as a “shrilling fly” in an unusual verbal attack that Taipei described as “slander and abuse”.

October is traditionally a politically charged season because both China and Taiwan celebrate their national days this month. 

On Friday, Beijing marked the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. 

On October 10, Taiwan celebrates the Republic of China, the state that was overthrown in mainland China by the PRC but continues to exist in Taiwan, where the ROC government fled in 1949.

Last year, however, there was no marked increase in air incursions by China’s People’s Liberation Army.

Some observers in Taiwan said the PLA’s increased harassment could be an attempt to intimidate Taiwan ahead of planned exchanges with Europe. 

Next week, a delegation of French lawmakers is due to visit Taipei. 

Later this month, Taiwan’s chief economic planner is scheduled to lead a 65-strong delegation to several central and eastern European countries.

However, military experts noted that the level of PLA air activity near Taiwan had been at a heightened level for weeks. 

Since Taiwan conducted its regular annual military exercise in early September, PLA air incursions frequently included fighter jets, a pattern rarely seen until now.

The PLA has been sending aircraft into Taiwan’s ADIZ on an average of 20 days per month since September 2020, when Taipei made the incursions public for the first time.

Often only one or two anti-submarine warfare or early-warning aircraft a day enter the zone for extended periods. 

Large numbers of fighters and bombers, like this weekend, have in the past appeared when Taiwan has enjoyed international attention or engaged in foreign exchanges.

The warplanes do not enter Taiwan’s sovereign airspace, which begins 12 miles off the coast of its territory. 

But by frequently entering the ADIZ, they force Taiwan’s military to continuously scramble fighter jets, exhausting its resources and gathering intelligence in the process.

Additional reporting by Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington

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