Chinese warplanes make second Taiwan incursion in space of two days

Lawrence Chung

Taiwan sent warplanes to intercept a group of mainland Chinese jets that had briefly approached the island on Monday, the second such incident in two days.

The incident came as the island’s vice-president-designate William Lai Ching-te concluded an eight-day visit to the US that had angered Beijing.

The mainland warplanes, including H-6 bombers, briefly crossed the median line in the Taiwan Strait on their way to the western Pacific through the Bashi Channel in the morning for long-haul training exercises, Taiwan’s defence ministry said in a statement on Monday.

“Our air force scrambled fighter jets to shadow, intercept and disperse the communist warplanes through radio broadcasting,” the ministry said, adding the mainland planes later left the area.

The mainland warplanes later returned to their home base after their morning drill, the military said.

It was the second day in a row that the mainland warplanes flew past Taiwan after a group of aircraft, including J-11 fighter jets, KJ-500 early warning aircraft and H-6 bombers, flew over the Bashi Channel on Sunday before returning to their bases via the Miyako Strait northeast of Taiwan, the ministry said.

“The military has full surveillance and control of the communist long-haul training activities and the public can rest assured of our capability to uphold security or our national territory,” it said.

Meanwhile, Lai completed his eight-day “private” visit to Washington, during which he met the National Security Council and other US officials and senators.

Lai, who left for the US last Sunday to attend the National Prayer Breakfast – an annual gathering of political and religious leaders in Washington – was considered the highest-level Taiwanese official to meet with National Security Council officials since the US switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing from Taipei in 1979.

The visit was hailed as a diplomatic breakthrough for the island because until now Washington has been reluctant to allow such exchanges for fear of angering Beijing, which has repeatedly demanded that the US adhere to the “one-China” policy.

Taiwan scrambles jets as mainland Chinese air force flies around island

Beijing views Taiwan as a wayward province that must be brought back to the mainland fold – by force if necessary.

It has suspended official exchanges with Taiwan since Tsai Ing-wen of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party was first elected president in 2016 and refused to accept the one-China principle as the basis for cross-strait exchanges.

Since then, Beijing has staged war games close to the island and poached seven of Taiwan’s allies to heap pressure on the president, who was reelected last month.

A People’s Liberation Army spokesperson said on Sunday the flight was a “necessary action” under “current security situation across the Taiwan Strait”.

Vice-President-elect William Lai Ching-te met National Security Council officials on his visit to the White House. Photo: Facebook

Observers said Lai’s US visit was made possible due to a new US policy to allow high-level official and military exchanges with Taiwan, which has been included in the US security alliance to counter the mainland’s military expansion in the Indo-Pacific region.

They said Lai is still technically a civilian until he takes office in May, and the US can always use this status to defend its move, although the visit has prompted strong protests from the Chinese foreign ministry.

Observers also said Taiwan’s efforts in seeking to join the World Health Organisation amid the deadly coronavirus outbreak have also riled Beijing, which has repeatedly said the island is a mainland province with no right to join international bodies which require statehood for membership.

Taipei complains to World Health Organisation after coronavirus case is classed as ‘Taiwan, China’

On Monday, Ma Xiaoguang, a spokesman for the mainland’s Taiwan Affairs Office, warned the Tsai government against “playing with fire” by “trying to use its strengthening ties with the US to plot independence”.

“This is a sheer provocation,” Ma said, adding what the People’s Liberation Army did was to protect the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of the mainland and to maintain cross-strait peace.

Song Zhongping, a military commentator for Hong Kong Phoenix Television, said the patrol was aimed at the separatist movement on the island.

“Such a patrol is for war-preparedness … and has become a routine practice and a resolution to effectively attack the pro-independence force,” said Song, a former instructor for the PLA’s Second Artillery, the predecessor of the Rocket Force.

A Beijing-based military source close to the PLA, who requested anonymity, said the warplanes were equipped with missiles, which has become a standard procedure for PLA’s air drills.

Additional reporting by Minnie Chan

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