A U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon takes off from Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, March 3, 2023.

A U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon takes off from Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, March 3, 2023. (Glenn Slaughter/U.S. Navy)

A Navy surveillance aircraft flew through the Taiwan Strait on Thursday, the U.S. 7th Fleet said, as Chinese forces moved into their third day of drills around Taiwan.

China since Tuesday has engaged in “long-range aerial reconnaissance training” around the island, with scores of aircraft and numerous warships, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense said through several news releases and tweets.

A U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon flew through the contentious strait on Thursday to demonstrate “the United States' commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the U.S. 7th Fleet announced that day. The plane moved south from the East China Sea to the South China Sea.

“By operating within the Taiwan Strait in accordance with international law, the United States upholds the navigational rights and freedoms of all nations,” the command said in a news release.

The Navy routinely sends ships, usually guided-missile destroyers, through the strait. Aircraft such as the Poseidon make the journey less often.

The Poseidon is a multirole, twin-engine aircraft based on Boeing’s 737 Next Generation airliner, according to the manufacturer’s website. Its missions include intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, patrol, search and rescue and anti-submarine warfare.

Beijing organized fighter jets to monitor the Poseidon’s “publicly hyped” flight, Eastern Theater Command spokesman Shi Yijun said Thursday on the force’s Weibo social media account.

“Theater troops maintain a high level of alert at all times and resolutely defend national sovereignty and security as well as regional peace and stability,” he wrote.

All interactions with Chinese military forces during the transit were “consistent with international norms and did not impact the operation,” 7th Fleet spokeswoman Lt. Kristina Wiedemann told Stars and Stripes by phone Thursday.

Taipei on Tuesday reported an increase in Chinese activity in waters around Taiwan, with 34 aircraft and four warships active in the area, according to a tweet by the Ministry of National Defense.

By Wednesday morning, 38 aircraft and nine vessels had drilled around the island; 32 of the aircraft crossed the strait’s median line and entered Taiwan’s southwest and east Air Defense Identification Zone, according to a ministry news release.

It reported similar numbers Thursday morning, with 33 aircraft and nine warships active around the island and 24 aircraft crossing the median line.

Taiwanese forces monitored the situation throughout the week, the ministry said.

China considers Taiwan, a functional democracy, to be a breakaway province that must be reunified with the mainland. Beijing also sends ships and aircraft toward Taiwan on a near-daily basis, but Taipei rarely identifies those actions as part of a larger exercise.

Among the aircraft involved in the Chinese exercise this week were J-10 and J-16 fighter jets, H-6 bombers, Y-8 EW transport jets, unmanned aerial vehicles and carrier-based aircraft, Taiwan’s military said.

Beijing last launched major drills around the island on June 13, when it marked off three areas along its eastern coast for exercises that included live-fire training.

In mid-April, China launched a much larger series of drills around Taiwan in response to Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s meeting with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California that month.

As many as 70 Chinese aircraft sortied daily during those exercises, which also included simulated strikes on Taiwanese targets and live-fire training.

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Alex Wilson covers the U.S. Navy and other services from Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. Originally from Knoxville, Tenn., he holds a journalism degree from the University of North Florida. He previously covered crime and the military in Key West, Fla., and business in Jacksonville, Fla.

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