Taiwan jets scramble as China air force enters air defense zone


Chinese and Taiwanese national flags are displayed alongside a military airplane in this illustration taken April 9, 2021. (REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration)

TAIPEI — Taiwan on Monday reported the largest incursion since January by China’s air force in its air defense zone, with the island’s defense ministry saying Taiwanese fighters scrambled to warn away 30 aircraft in the latest uptick in tensions.

Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory, has complained for the past two years or so of repeated missions by China’s air force near the democratically governed island, often in the southwestern part of its air defense identification zone, or ADIZ, close to the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands.

Taiwan calls China’s repeated nearby military activities “grey zone” warfare, designed to both wear out Taiwan’s forces by making them repeatedly scramble, and also to test Taiwan’s responses.

The latest Chinese mission included 22 fighters, as well as electronic warfare, early warning, and antisubmarine aircraft, the Taiwan ministry said.

The aircraft flew in an area to the northeast of the Pratas, according to a map the ministry provided, though far from Taiwan itself.

Taiwan sent combat aircraft to warn away the Chinese aircraft, while missile systems were deployed to monitor them, the ministry said.

It was the largest incursion since Taiwan reported 39 Chinese aircraft in its ADIZ on Jan. 23.

There was no immediate comment from China, which has in the past said such moves were drills aimed at protecting the country’s sovereignty.

China’s military said last week it had recently conducted an exercise around Taiwan as a “solemn warning” against its “collusion” with the United States.

That came after US President Joe Biden angered China by appearing to signal a change in a U.S. policy of “strategic ambiguity” on Taiwan by saying the United States would get involved militarily if China were to attack the island.

China has stepped up pressure on Taiwan to accept its sovereignty claims. Taiwan’s government says it wants peace but will defend itself if attacked.

No shots have been fired and the Chinese aircraft have not been flying in Taiwan’s air space, but in its ADIZ, a broader area Taiwan monitors and patrols that acts to give it more time to respond to any threats.

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