As many as 24 mainland Chinese warplanes entered Taiwan’s air defence identification zone on Thursday.
The warplanes – including 18 fighter jets, two bombers, two anti-submarine aircraft, a transport and an electronic warfare plane – entered the southwest of the self-ruled island’s ADIZ, according to Taiwan’s defence ministry.
“In response, our air force scrambled jets, issued radio warnings and deployed air defence missile systems to monitor the activities of the planes,” the ministry said in a statement.
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Observers said the show of force – the largest since China sent 28 warplanes to the same area – could be aimed at showing off the ability of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to carry out joint manoeuvres, while sending a signal to the US and its allies Beijing would not back off on issues relating to national sovereignty.
A map released by the ministry showed some of the jets flew in a long, L-shaped path at Taiwan’s southwest ADIZ.
It was the 20th time PLA planes had entered Taiwan’s ADIZ this month, according to the ministry.
Beijing, which views the self-ruled island as its territory, has sent warplanes toward Taiwan on an almost daily basis over the past year. It stepped up its military pressure on Taiwan since Tsai Ing-wen, of the Democratic Progressive Party, was elected president in 2016.
Su Tzu-yun, a senior analyst for the Institute for National Defence and Security Research in Taipei, said the warplanes which came in several batches in both morning and afternoon appeared to be carrying out joint manoeuvres.
“Bashi Channel has become one of the important locations for the PLA to carry out various underwater missions to build up its underwater force in threatening the US and Taiwan,” Su said.
He said an electronic warfare plane aimed to gather electronic data in the busy waterway where warships of other countries, including the US, pass through.
The incursion came as China’s Maritime Safety Administration reported the PLA was having live-fire drills in the Yellow Sea and Bohai Sea some 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) northeast of Taiwan. Vessels were urged not to sail close to the region.
The government agency also said the PLA would stage another drill in part of the waters in the South China Sea from Friday to Sunday.
Thursday’s fly-by came a day after Taiwan announced it had applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, which prompted Beijing to warn signatories against having official contacts with Taiwan.
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