‘Military harassment’: China sends record number of aircraft near Taiwan
Stars and Stripes September 18, 2023
China’s military sent a record 103 aircraft into the skies around Taiwan on Monday, according to the island’s Ministry of National Defense.
The ministry complained of “continued military harassment” by Beijing, which began a campaign of daily sorties and naval activity around the island last week, according to Taiwan’s state-run Military News Agency.
The aircraft, along with nine Chinese ships, were detected between 6 a.m. Sunday and 6 a.m. Monday; 40 planes crossed the Taiwan Strait’s median line or entered the island’s southeast and southwest air defense identification zones, the ministry said in a series of posts on X, formerly Twitter.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning, asked about the reported military activity, said there is no such thing as a “median line” because Taiwan is part of Chinese territory, according to The Associated Press.
The “recent high” number of aircraft threatened to “lead to a sharp increase in tension and worsen regional security,” Taiwan’s state-sponsored Military News Agency reported Monday.
The scores of aircraft outnumbered the previous high of 91 planes and a dozen ships reported April 11 by Taiwan’s military, amid a three-day series of Chinese drills that encircled the island.
The drills followed Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen meeting with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California the week prior.
The new record follows a surge of Chinese activity around Taiwan last week that peaked between Wednesday and Thursday with 68 aircraft and 10 ships. Eighteen aircraft and 14 ships were sighted Friday and nine aircraft and 10 ships on Saturday, according to another series of posts on X from Taiwan’s defense ministry.
“We call on the Beijing authorities to take responsibility and immediately stop such destructive unilateral actions,” the ministry said in the Military News Agency report.
Taipei is under “severe pressure from these continual exercises” and has had to adjust its former practice of continually intercepting Chinese aircraft, according to Lyle Goldstein, director of Asia engagement at Defense Priorities and a visiting professor at Brown University.
“This could be part of China’s strategy to stretch and intimidate Taiwan’s forces,” he told Stars and Stripes by email Friday.
The surge of activity may be a response to a U.S.-Canada transit of the Taiwan Strait on Sept. 9 or related to Taiwan’s upcoming president elections in January, Norah Huang, director for international relations at the Prospect Foundation, a security and foreign affairs think tank in Taipei, said by email Sept. 12.
China considers the 110-mile-wide Taiwan Strait its territorial waters and views the island as a breakaway province that must be reunified with the mainland, possibly by force.
Another defense expert from Prospect Foundation, I-Chung Lai, said the heightened airpower demonstration was more likely related to a major Chinese exercise involving the aircraft carrier Shandong east of Taiwan.
The Shandong and several other vessels appeared to hold an unannounced drill in the Western Pacific between Wednesday and Thursday, with around 60 aircraft sorties, according to a Friday news release from Japan’s Joint Staff.
The carrier and several ships continued to the South China Sea on Friday, the release said.