36 Chinese military aircraft detected around Taiwan

36 Chinese military aircraft detected around Taiwan

TAIPEI (AFP): Taipei’s defence ministry announced Friday the highest single-day number of Chinese military aircraft around the self-ruled island this year, which analysts attributed as a reaction to Taiwan’s political outreach to Europe in recent days.

Beijing claims democratic Taiwan as part of its territory and has never renounced the use of force to bring it under China’s control.

Friday’s incursion, an uptick from the previous day’s tally, follows a pattern of what experts dub “grey zone” actions — tactics that fall short of outright acts of war — which have ramped up since the 2016 election of President Tsai Ing-wen.

Political tensions have also risen since January after Tsai’s deputy Lai Ching-te — who Beijing regards as a “dangerous separatist” — was elected as president, and amid an ongoing row between China and Taiwan over a fatal boat incident.

In the 24 hours leading up to 6:00 am Friday (2200 GMT Thursday), the Ministry of National Defence said it had detected 36 Chinese military aircraft and six naval ships operating around Taiwan.

The ministry added that among the aircraft detected, 13 had “crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait”, the sensitive waterway separating China from Taiwan.

Friday’s announcement comes on the heels of nighttime activity by the Chinese military, with Taiwan’s defence ministry announcing around 10:30 pm Thursday that 20 fighter jets, aerial unmanned vehicles and transport planes had been detected from 7:30 pm.

It is also the day after an uptick in activity during the 24-hour period ending at 6:00 am Thursday, when the ministry said Beijing had sent in 32 aircraft.

– Bearing the pressure –

Ahead of January’s election of Lai, Beijing warned he would bring “war and decline” to the island.

Lai will take office on May 20 alongside vice president-elect Hsiao Bi-khim of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

Hsiao — formerly Taiwan’s de facto ambassador to the United States — has been travelling in recent days, including to the Czech Republic and the European Parliament.

“Our fight for freedom and democracy is more shared than ever, and the Taiwanese people can rest assured it will always find dear friends in Europeans,” wrote French politician Dominique Riquet, who is also a member of the European Parliament, on social media platform X on Thursday.

China had slammed Hsiao’s visit to the Czech Republic on Tuesday, accusing her of trying to serve “the purpose of Taiwan independence” — a redline for Beijing.

Analyst Wen-ti Sung said Beijing’s jump in military activity may be a “show of force to drive home its displeasure against Taiwan’s growing international engagement”.

“If this can discourage other international leaders from meeting Hsiao in the future, all the better from Beijing’s perspective,” he told AFP.

Military expert Su Tzu-yun agreed Hsiao’s European travels could play a motivating factor but pointed to Asia for added reasons, including a recent Manila meeting between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos.

China and the Philippines are both claimants in maritime hotspot the South China Sea, where Beijing’s ships have been accused of causing collisions with Philippine boats and firing water cannon at them during a resupply mission.

Blinken earlier this week said the United States stands by its “ironclad” commitments to defend longtime ally the Philippines, drawing a rebuke from Beijing that Washington had “no right” to interfere in the issue.

“China’s behaviours are not only directed at Taiwan, but Taiwan will be the one that bears the most pressure,” Su, a military expert at Taiwan’s Institute for National Defense and Security Research, told AFP.

– Chinese boat row –

Adding to tensions, a row between Taipei and Beijing over a fatal fishing boat incident has dragged on since last month.

A Chinese speedboat carrying four people capsized on February 14 near Taiwan’s Kinmen islands while being pursued by the Taiwanese coast guard, killing two people while the other two survived.

Beijing has accused Taiwanese authorities of “seeking to evade their responsibilities and hide the truth” about the incident, while the Taiwanese coast guard said the boat involved was zigzagging and “lost its balance” before capsizing.

China has said it will step up patrols around Kinmen following a series of deadly incidents, including the sinking of another boat in the area this month that resulted in the deaths of two crew members.