Chinese fighter jets and bombers approached Taiwan for the second day on Saturday as a senior US official wrapped up his trip to the island and paid tribute to its former president Lee Teng-hui.
Chinese military observers described the move as a political declaration and warning that no place on the island was safe.
Taiwan said 19 Chinese aircraft, including two H-6 strategic bombers, crossed the midline of the Taiwan Strait and entered its southwest air defence identification zone.
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Taiwan’s air force scrambled fighters and deployed air defence missile systems to monitor their activities, the island’s defence ministry said.
On Friday, it said 18 Chinese aircraft had approached from four directions and entered its air space.
Hong Yuan, a military analyst with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said China’s military exercise was not just a drill but also a warning.
“Purely from the military angle, China’s warplanes can attack the whole island from the southeastern province of Fujian or Jiangxi. They do not need to go across the Taiwan Strait,” he said.
“It’s a political declaration that Taiwan is a part of China and no place in Taiwan is safe.”
The drills follow the arrival on Thursday of Keith Krach, the US undersecretary of state for economic growth, energy and the environment, who attended the funeral of the late president Lee Teng-hui, who passed away on July 30 at the age of 97.
The service was held at the Aletheia University in Taipei on Saturday morning, where President Tsai Ing-wen honoured Lee for bringing about a peaceful political transition to democracy.
“We have a responsibility to continue his endeavours, allowing the will of the people to reshape Taiwan, further defining Taiwan’s identity and deepening and bolstering democracy and freedom,” Tsai said.
Two members of Krach’s delegation – Robert Destro, the assistant secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labour, and Kelley Currie, US ambassador-at-large for global women's issues, met Lam Wing-kee – one of five Hong Kong booksellers who disappeared in 2015 and later emerged in detention in mainland China, according to the Central News Agency.
Krach’s visit has been criticised by Beijing, while some nationalist commentators warned that China would step up its military activities if the US and Taiwan continued their “provocations”.
In Beijing, defence ministry spokesperson Ren Guoqiang said the military exercises were a necessary move aimed at the current situation in the Taiwan Strait to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity.
“Those who play with fire will get burnt,” he warned at a press conference on Friday.
In a separate statement, the PLA Eastern Theatre Command, which oversees the Taiwan Strait, described the drill as “real combat-oriented, joint aerial and maritime”.
Chinese military analyst Song Zhongping told the hawkish state-owned tabloid Global Times: “The real combat-oriented, joint aerial and maritime drills mean that the People’s Liberation Army is practising in key areas of a real battle, while the combat-readiness patrols are operations aimed at preparing for combat anytime if anomalies occur on the island.”
Global Times warned in an editorial that the PLA drills were a rehearsal for invading Taiwan.
“The PLA has lifted the curtain on real-combat military exercises targeted at Taiwan, and the scale of such exercises is bound to expand in the future and meet the requirements for substantive strikes against Taiwan,” said the editorial.
“Should they [the US and Taiwan] continue to make provocations, a war will inevitably break out,” it added.
Additional reporting by Associated Press
This article Chinese warplanes continue Taiwan operations as island says farewell to former president Lee Teng-hui first appeared on South China Morning Post