China Sends Record 56 Warplanes Near Taiwan, Continuing 4 Days of Incursions

Taiwan air force pilots stand next to French-made Mirage fighter jets during an annual exercise at the Hsinchu air force base on Jan. 16, 2019. (Sam Yeh / AFP via Getty Images)
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By Eva Fu

Beijing sent 56 fighter jets into Taiwan’s air defense zone on Oct. 4 in its largest show of strength on record toward the self-ruled island that it claims as its own. The move also marked the fourth day of sustained military harassment against Taiwan that has seen nearly 150 warplanes fly into the zone.

The latest incursion included 34 J-16 fighters and 12 H-6 bombers, according to Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense. An additional four Chinese J-16s appeared in the southwestern part of Taiwan’s “Air Defense Identification Zone”—the buffer area outside the island’s airspace.

For more than a year, tensions across the Taiwan Strait have been intensifying as Beijing heightened its military and diplomatic pressure on the island. The regime’s air force has made over 500 military incursions over the nine months this year, compared to 380 in 2020, according to Taiwanese authorities.

The latest cluster of maneuvers began on Oct. 1—the 72nd anniversary of the regime’s founding. Since then, 149 Chinese warplanes have flown over the territory.

With such activity, Beijing is asserting its military prowess while signaling its resolve to lay claim on Taiwan, experts have said.

Chang Yen-ting, a retired air force lieutenant general from Taiwan, believes that the actions are in part a response to the growing international attention on the democratic island.

The United States, Australia, Britain, and Japan have increasingly called out China’s military aggression in the Indo-Pacific region.

Taiwan has also applied to join the 12-nation trade pact known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, or CPTPP, which China also seeks to enter.

Australia and Japan, meanwhile, have expressed reluctance over the prospect of having Beijing in the trade bloc over its use of economic coercion on countries it has disputes with. Both countries, along with Canada and the United States, have expressed support for Taiwan’s bid.

J15 fighter jets on China’s sole operational aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, during a drill at sea in April 2018. (AFP/Getty Images)

“Taiwan’s fight for greater international space is likely stepping on the CCP’s [Chinese Communist Party’s] red lines,” Chang told The Epoch Times, referring to Beijing’s position that international support for Taiwan constitutes a “red line” that cannot be crossed by other countries.

Wu Ming-chieh, a Taiwan-based military analyst, said the regime may further dial up the temperature in the coming days. As Chinese leader Xi Jinping seeks to secure his third time as the Party’s paramount leader next year, he is likely to present a tougher front to ease domestic pressure, he said.

However, this strategy is not without risk. “The bigger their moves, the more it could backfire,” he said.

Speaking at a press briefing on Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki urged Beijing to ”cease its military, diplomatic and economic pressure and coercion against Taiwan.”

China’s “provocative” military activity “is destabilizing, risks miscalculations, and undermines regional peace and stability,” she said. Psaki later added that U.S. officials are also “in touch privately, conveying clear messages through diplomatic channels.”

Faced with U.S. criticism, the Chinese foreign ministry on Monday put the blame on Washington, warning that its arms sales to Taiwan and U.S. warships sailing through the Taiwan Strait would undermine bilateral relations.

Taiwan’s foreign ministry said Beijing’s actions have been inflaming tensions in the Indo-Pacific region.

“In the face of China’s challenges, our country’s government has always committed itself to improving our self-defense capabilities and resolutely safeguarding Taiwan’s democracy, freedom, peace, and prosperity,” it said in a statement on Oct. 3.

Chang Chun contributed to this report.

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