Taiwan Tracks Chinese Jets Near Island amid Regional Tensions

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On Wednesday, Taiwan’s defense ministry identified 14 aircraft from the Chinese Air Force engaged in “joint combat readiness patrols” alongside Chinese warships in the vicinity of the island. China, asserting its claim over Taiwan as its territory to be reunified by force if deemed necessary, has consistently deployed warplanes and warships around the island over the past four years. These actions aim to reinforce sovereignty claims that are contested by the Taipei government. The ministry said the military exercises began at about 6 p.m. Tuesday and included fighter jets, midair refueling tanker aircraft, and anti-submarine vessels.

The ministry said 13 of the aircraft crossed the median line in the strait, or areas close to it, working with the warships to carry out the patrols. The other was near the strait’s contiguous zone, which extends 12 nautical miles (22 km) off Taiwan’s coast. The ministry said it saw no response from the Chinese side.

It said the Chinese planes flew to the south and southwest of Taiwan, which is China’s claimed ADIZ airspace, and entered its territorial sea. The ministry routinely publicizes what Chinese warplanes and ships it detects in the area, including a broader region spanning water and air space that each state can claim.

A ministry statement said the number of sorties was a record high and raised “several security concerns.” It called on Beijing to stop its military harassment of Taiwan, saying it would escalate tensions in the strait and worsen regional security.

China says its military drills demonstrate its ability to respond quickly to any threat. However, some observers believe the maneuvers warn Washington not to interfere with Taiwan, a major U.S. ally in the region and a key pillar of its alliance with Japan. President Tsai Ing-wen immediately denounced the exercises and vowed to work with Washington and other like-minded nations in the face of what she described as continued authoritarian expansionism by Beijing.

She warned that the “provocative actions by the Chinese Communist Party will result in a grave impact on regional peace and stability.” She added that the government had made all preparations to ensure its residents’ safety.

Analysts say a full-scale invasion of Taiwan, including air and sea strikes, could take several weeks. It would require China to air- or sea-lift more than 100,000 troops onto hostile terrain and control the air and water around the island. Such an operation could trigger intervention by the US and other countries, and even if it succeeded, it would devastate the very land that Beijing seeks to control.

Analysts say the exercises are also designed to send a message ahead of January’s presidential election, in which Tsai and other members of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party lean toward formal independence for Taiwan, anathema to Beijing. The exercises come as the United States and China prepare to hold their annual security talks in Bangkok, building on a commitment by the leaders of the world’s two largest economies to deepen their dialogue.

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