China sent a record number of military aircraft toward the self-governing democratic island of Taiwan, prompting the island’s Defense Ministry to warn on Monday against what it called “destructive” harassment. The previous daily record for Chinese military flights near Taiwan was 91 planes, April 10.
Taiwan said it tracked 103 People’s Liberation Army aircraft that entered its air defense identification zone in the 24 hours to Monday morning. None entered Taiwanese airspace.
That count included 40 planes that crossed the median line in the Taiwan Strait, which once acted as an informal border between the two sides. Dozens of other Chinese planes flew from the southern tip of Taiwan and circled part of the way along the island’s eastern coast, facing the western Pacific.
What we know
China has increased military flights around Taiwan every year since 2019. In particular, Beijing has done so during times of tension over Taiwan’s high-level exchanges with the United States, the island’s most important political and security partner. .
The last big increase came after Nancy Pelosi, then speaker of the House of Representatives, visited Taiwan last year on a show of support for the island.
In 2020, Taiwan began publishing daily counts of the growing number of Chinese military aircraft entering its “air defense identification zone,” also called ADIZ, which is a buffer area much larger than Taiwan’s territorial airspace.
The number of People’s Liberation Army flights recorded by Taiwan increased from 972 in 2021, the first full year in which Taiwan began regularly recording numbers, to 1,737 last year and 1,268 so far this year, including the increase in Monday, Ben Lewis said. a military analyst holding a set of data about flightsusing data from the Taiwanese Ministry of Defense.
Chinese leaders have maintained for decades that they want to recapture Taiwan peacefully, but will not exclude the use of force if they deem it necessary.
Increased Chinese military activity around Taiwan does not mean war is imminent. China is also testing and eroding island surveillanceseeking to wear down its military equipment and personnel, and remind Taiwanese politicians and voters of China’s military power.
The growing military presence in the skies and waters off Taiwan’s eastern coast also indicates China’s intention to dominate an expanse of sea that could be vital to the island’s defenses.
What China and Taiwan have said
Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense warned that China’s “continued military harassment” could dramatically increase tensions. “We call on the authorities in Beijing to take responsibility and immediately end such destructive unilateral actions.”
China, at least until now, has remained relatively quiet about its recent military exercises and activities near Taiwan.
Last week, China celebrated Large-scale military exercises in the Western Pacificincluding the deployment of an aircraft carrier and dozens of warships and fighter jets, and issued no announcements.
What the experts say
Ou Si-fu, a researcher at the National Defense and Security Research Institute, said Monday’s record flights appeared aimed at putting pressure on Taiwan, which has sought to develop ties with the United States.
The raids appeared to signal “China’s dissatisfaction with recent developments in strengthening military, economic and trade cooperation between Taiwan and the United States,” Ou said.
Others saw a more generic motivation.
“This is more like a routine exercise by the Chinese Communist Party to demonstrate the ability of its military aircraft to perform long-distance missions,” said Chieh Chung, a security analyst at the National Policy Foundation in Taipei. “This is not necessarily specifically politically motivated.”
China may be keeping quiet about the exercises as it tries stabilize relationships with the United States, Chieh said. Wang Yi, China’s top diplomat, met with White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan over the weekend and stressed that the Taiwan issue was a “red line” for China.