Record Chinese Aircraft Sorties Near Taiwan Prompt U.S. Warning

Record Chinese Aircraft Sorties Near Taiwan Prompt U.S. Warning

Beijing flies 93 military sorties over three days, prompting warning from the U.S.

Beijing flew 93 military sorties near Taiwan over three days as China celebrated its National Day holiday, its largest such prodding in the past year, prompting the U.S. to warn against what it called provocative military activity.

On Friday, the Chinese sent 38 military aircraft, including J-16 jet fighters, H-6 strategic bombers and Y-8 submarine-spotting aircraft, flying into Taiwan’s southwestern air-defense identification zone, more than in any other sortie over the past year. The following day, the People’s Liberation Army broke that record by sending 39 more aircraft. On Sunday, China sent another 16 military aircraft, according to Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense.

Taiwan responded to the PLA deployment with combat aircraft to keep the intruders at bay, issued radio warnings and deployed missile systems to track their activity, Taiwan’s Air Force said in statements. The Air Force also released a video Saturday in response to such activities, declaring in the text accompanying images of its jet fighters and pilots: “How can we let our enemy’s aircrafts fly over us!”

The aircraft maneuvers coincided with China’s National Day on Oct. 1. Taiwan, the self-ruled island that Beijing claims as its territory and has vowed to assimilate, celebrates its own National Day on Oct. 10. The frequency of such aircraft deployments has increased, as China’s PLA has ramped up its presence around Taiwan over the past year, amid closer ties between Taipei and Washington.

Rising concerns about the Taiwan Strait as an international flashpoint are evident from comments by politicians and military maneuvers. President Biden and other leaders of the Group of Seven major democracies in June cited the worry in a communiqué that said, “We underscore the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and encourage the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues.”

It was the first-ever official mention of Taiwan by G-7 leaders and it has been echoed by officials in individual countries, notably in an increasingly hawkish Japan.

The U.S. Navy has stepped up freedom-of-navigation operations in and around the Strait, with sailings by other Western nations including French and British forces. Last month, the U.S. passed a bill calling for the U.S. to invite Taiwan to next year’s multi-navy Pacific Ocean exercises; a few years ago Beijing was disinvited from the American-led biennial Rim of the Pacific drills.

The U.S. Department of State reiterated its commitment to Taiwan in a statement on Sunday, adding that the U.S. was very concerned by the military activity near Taiwan and would continue to assist Taiwan to maintain a “sufficient self-defense capability.”

Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that it would strengthen cooperation with the U.S. to maintain peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.

J. Michael Cole, senior fellow at the Global Taiwan Institute, said the maneuvers were an effort to send signals to a variety of actors, not just Taiwan’s government and its people. “It’s a low-cost instrument for China to show to its own people that they are setting the agenda in cross-straits relations, and to send a message of deterrence and intimidation to Taiwan and other governments deploying vessels in the Taiwan Strait and the region.”

The PLA has flown more than 750 sorties of warplanes near Taiwan over the past year, according to a Wall Street Journal tally of the sorties based on statements by Taiwan’s Defense Ministry, which began releasing such data on Sept. 16, 2020. More than 600 of those aircraft were dispatched this year, the data showed.

An air-defense identification zone, or ADIZ, extends beyond a territory’s airspace and is monitored in the interest of giving its military time to respond to any incoming foreign aircraft. The Chinese aircraft didn’t enter within 12 nautical miles of Taiwan’s coast, which it claims as its airspace.

China set its own East China Sea ADIZ in 2013, requiring planes to identify themselves when entering the zone that extends 200 miles from its coast into the East China Sea. The U.S. government said at the time it wouldn’t honor the zone but commercial aircraft have done so.

The Wall Street Journal reported the Air Force in February 2020 flew a B-52 through China’s zone, in a triangle that swept from Guam along the Japanese coast and neared Taiwan’s northern tip.

China tries to wave U.S. forces away near its shores and track Navy ships that enter the region, including the South China Sea, where Beijing has constructed military outposts on reclaimed landmass.

Domestically in Taiwan, the aircraft deployment has alarmed policy makers such as Joseph Wu, Taiwan’s foreign minister. Mr. Wu tweeted on Saturday that China had sent a record number of sorties the day before. He added, “Threatening? Of course.”

On Thursday, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office had issued a stern statement against Mr. Wu and dismissed what it called “Taiwan independence provocations.”

“We are telling people like Joseph Wu: Taiwan independence is a dead end,” the statement said. “All kinds of Taiwan independence talks are nothing more than flies buzzing. A few screams, a few sobs.”

China’s National Day marks the Communist Party’s triumph in 1949, and military muscle flexing is standard operating procedure of the celebrations. For the 70th anniversary of its rule on 2019’s National Day, for example, President Xi Jinping reviewed PLA troops and new ballistic missiles from an open-top limousine.

The sorties also come just weeks after Taiwan unveiled a draft bill calling for authorities to significantly increase military spending over the next five years. The effort called for the allocation of about $8.7 billion over the next five years to finance new weapon systems that would better equip the island to repel an attack by China. These include homegrown precision missiles and high-performance naval ships, and the new spending would come on top of Taiwan’s annual military-related budget, which is set to grow 4% in 2022 to a record $15.1 billion.

In January, China also staged a similar show of aerial might toward Taiwan, just days after Mr. Biden took office. Then, the move was seen as an attempt to warn the Biden administration and the U.S.—Taiwan’s most important supporter—of the stakes involved in supporting the island.

—Joyu Wang contributed to this article.

By Liza Lin and James T. Areddy

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