World

China sends a record 28 military planes into airspace controlled by Taiwan

June 16, 2021
Tuesday's flights — which included fighter jets, bombers, and anti-submarine and early warning aircraft — surpassed the previous peak of 25 planes reported on April 12. — Courtesy photo
Tuesday's flights — which included fighter jets, bombers, and anti-submarine and early warning aircraft — surpassed the previous peak of 25 planes reported on April 12. — Courtesy photo

TAIPEI — Twenty-eight Chinese military planes flew into Taiwan's Air Defense Identification Zones (ADIZ) on Tuesday — the largest incursion since the self-ruled island began regularly reporting such actions last year, according to Taiwan's Ministry of Defense.

Tuesday's flights — which included fighter jets, bombers, and anti-submarine and early warning aircraft — surpassed the previous peak of 25 planes reported on April 12.

Beijing claims full sovereignty over Taiwan, a democracy of almost 24 million people located off the southeastern coast of mainland China, even though the two sides have been governed separately for more than seven decades.

While there was no immediate comment from Beijing on Tuesday's flights, the news comes after the Group of Seven (G7) leaders issued a joint statement on Sunday scolding China for a series of issues and underscored the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait — comments China condemned as "slander."

But analysts said Tuesday's flights likely served several purposes for China, both demonstrating the strength of the country's People's Liberation Army to a domestic audience, while giving the PLA intelligence and skills it would need in any potential conflict involving Taiwan.

It also follows the June 6 landing of a US Air Force C-17 transport jet in Taipei, an event likely perceived to be in "humiliating defiance" of Beijing's claim of sovereignty over Taiwan, according to Timothy Heath, a senior defense researcher at the RAND Corp think tank.

The landing of any foreign military aircraft on another nation's soil is strictly regulated by international norms and requires specific authorization.

The C-17, which was carrying a US Senate delegation to Taiwan as part a planned announcement regarding the donation of 750,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, had none of those from Beijing.

The 28 flights into Taiwan's ADIZ on Tuesday "showed Chinese domestic audiences that China would respond militarily to a US-Taiwan incident that Chinese authorities and media have denounced as extremely provocative," Heath said.

"The incursions also signaled to Taiwan and the US that China regarded the military cooperation as a threat," Heath said.

Drew Thompson, a former US Defense Department official now at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore, said it was highly unlikely China put together the complex 28-plane incursion in just 48 hours after the G7 statement that rankled Beijing.

"Can you get a presidential-level decision in China that quickly for something as complex as that? I doubt it," Thompson said.

"I think we can probably conclude that this was a series of planned exercises that probably the timelines were tweaked so that more aircraft could be added on short notice," he said.

Taiwan has complained in recent months of repeated missions by China's air force near the island, concentrated in the southwestern part of its air defense zone near the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands.

Thompson noted that Tuesday's flights included intelligence gathering early-warning aircraft. Those planes can measure Taiwan's response and that information could be used in the event of possible combat missions in the future.

He said the PLA's flights on Tuesday adhered to international law as they did not violate Taiwanese airspace, which extends 12 nautical miles from its coast, but rather only went into its ADIZ, an area any nation can set as it pleases.

The US Federal Aviation Administration defines an ADIZ as "a designated area of airspace over land or water within which a country requires the immediate and positive identification, location and air traffic control of aircraft in the interest of the country's national security."

The latest Chinese mission involved 14 J-16 and six J-11 fighters, as well as four H-6 bombers, which can carry nuclear weapons, and the anti-submarine, electronic warfare and early warning aircraft, Taiwan's defense ministry said.

The ministry added that Taiwanese combat aircraft were dispatched to intercept and warn away the Chinese aircraft, while missile systems were also deployed to monitor them. — CNN


June 16, 2021
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