Taipei says Chinese military aircraft flew night exercise across Taiwan Strait

Lawrence Chung

Taiwan sent fighter planes to intercept a flight of PLA Air Force aircraft that briefly approached the island on Monday evening in what analysts said was a rare exercise by Beijing aimed at showing off its night navigation capabilities.

The flight of People’s Liberation Army warplanes crossed the median of the Taiwan Strait into the Taiwanese side at about 7pm, according to the defence ministry in Taipei.

“We detected that a group of Chinese Communist warplanes, including KJ-500 early warning aircraft and J-11 jet fighters, staged a night-time training exercise over the sea southwest of Taiwan,” the ministry said on Monday.

The island’s “air force scrambled fighter jets to shadow, intercept and disperse the communist warplanes” through radio warnings, it said.

“The military has full surveillance and control of all activities in the sea and air that surround Taiwan, and the public can rest assured of our capability to uphold security for our national territory.”

Analysts said the exercise was aimed at strengthening the PLA Air Force’s all-weather operations.

“In addition to enhancing all-weather capability of its military fleet, the communist warplanes’ fly-by is aimed at sending out the message that it is business as usual with PLA war games despite the coronavirus outbreak in mainland China,” said Alexander Huang Chieh-cheng, a professor of international affairs and strategic studies at Tamkang University in Taipei.

Chinese jets make second Taiwan incursion in space of two days

He said the PLA’s night drill was also aimed at testing the response of forces such as the United States and telling them that the mainland’s air force can carry out night-time combat operations.

“Of course, it is also aimed at intimidating Taiwan,” Huang said.

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 diplomatic allies to heap pressure on the president, who was re-elected last month.

It was the fourth time in two months that Taiwan’s air force has scrambled to intercept PLA aircraft.

US warns China against trying to ‘coerce’ Taiwan after carrier operation

Three separate groups of the mainland’s warplanes, including J-11s, KJ-500s and H-6 bombers, approached Taiwan on their way to the western Pacific over the Bashi Channel for long-haul training exercises before returning home over the Miyako Strait to the northeast of Taiwan on February 9, 10 and 28.

Those actions prompted the US to send two B-52 bombers on southbound flights off Taiwan’s east coast, while a MJ-130J Commando II multi-mission combat transport plane flew over the Taiwan Strait, the defence ministry said.

The guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville sailed through the Taiwan Strait last month, the US Navy says. Photo: AFP

The US Seventh Fleet later revealed through a Facebook post that one of its warships – the guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville – sailed through the Taiwan Strait on February 15 on “normal under way operations transiting from the East China Sea to the South China Sea”.

The US switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing from Taipei in 1979, but has maintained close substantive and military ties with Taipei in line with its policy to check Beijing’s military expansion in the Asia-Pacific region.

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