China sent the most warplanes into sensitive areas around Taiwan since large-scale military exercises in April, a move that follows visits to the democratically run island by US and Canadian lawmakers.
A sortie of 32 planes crossed the median line in the Taiwan Strait or the island’s air-defense identification zone as of early Wednesday, the Defense Ministry in Taipei said in a Tweet. China’s military has stepped up flights across the line the US drew in 1954, sorties that effectively shrink the buffer zone between the two sides and wear down Taiwan’s smaller armed forces.
The Chinese aircraft cooperated with naval vessels “to carry out joint sea and air training,” the ministry said in a separate statement Tuesday evening. Taiwan’s military “kept a close watch” on the movements of the warplanes and vessels, including using “shore-mounted missile systems to closely monitor and deal with them.”
Last week, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen met with delegations of US and Canadian lawmakers, while Taiwanese Justice Minister Tsai Ching-hsiang held talks with German counterpart Marco Buschmann in Berlin. That was the first ever meeting of justice ministers from the two sides, and part of Tsai’s strategy to grow Taiwan’s profile internationally.
China strongly opposes nations that it has official ties with having contact with Taiwan’s leaders, saying it amounts to interference in its internal affairs. The People’s Liberation Army sent a record 54 warplanes into sensitive areas around Taiwan in April after Tsai met House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in the US. That followed major drills the PLA held to practice a blockade of Taiwan in August last year because then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei — exercises that included sending missiles over the island.
Beijing has pledged to bring Taiwan under its control someday, by force if necessary. US President Joe Biden has repeatedly vowed to defend Taiwan if it is invaded. Leaders of North Atlantic Treaty Organization nations said in a statement released Tuesday at their summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, that “China’s stated ambitions and coercive policies challenge our interests, security and values.”
Beijing “employs a broad range of political, economic, and military tools to increase its global footprint and project power, while remaining opaque about its strategy, intentions and military build-up,” the statement added. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Tuesday that “China is increasingly challenging the rules-based international order,” and is “threatening Taiwan.”
The latest warplane incursions also follow Taiwan Vice President Lai Ching-te saying that the leader of the island of 23 million people should someday be able to visit the White House, just as figures from Japan and South Korea do. Lai is the ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s candidate for president in the election in January next year.
Beijing blames the DPP for worsening tensions in the Taiwan Strait. It prefers contact with the opposition Kuomintang. When the KMT’s Ma Ying-jeou led Taiwan from 2008 to 2016 he forged closer ties with China.
The flights by China’s air force also come as Paraguay’s president-elect, Santiago Peña, visits the island, where his delegation is to meet Tsai and Lai on Wednesday. Paraguay is the only South American nation to officially recognize Taiwan as a nation.
Separately, Taiwan plans to hold annual live-fire drill July 24-28. The island-wide Han Kuang exercises are intended to strengthen countermeasures against China military threats and incorporate lessons from the war in Ukraine, the Defense Ministry said in a statement.