China’s air force stepped up its incursions into sensitive areas near Taiwan to the highest level since US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit three months ago, amid a flurry of activity it sees as undermining its sovereignty.
Some 31 aircraft flew into Taiwan’s southwestern air-defense identification zone or across the median line dividing the Taiwan Strait on Monday, the Defense Ministry in Taipei said in a tweet. The figure is the most since Aug. 5, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The planes were part of a larger sortie of 63 aircraft that neared “Taiwan’s surrounding region,” according to the ministry, which added that the military “monitored the situation” and responded with aircraft, naval vessels and missile systems. It didn’t provided specifics on those responses.
The flights are a measure of Beijing’s anger over a visit to Taipei this week by UK Trade Minister Greg Hands and Lithuania’s opening of a trade office on the democratically run island claimed by China. The US and Taiwan are also set to hold talks on a trade and economic initiative on Tuesday and Wednesday in New York.
On Monday, a Chinese diplomat criticized the visit by Hands, the first British minister to visit Taiwan since 2018. Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a regular press briefing that “there is but one China in the world, and Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory.” The UK should “stop sending wrong signals to Taiwan independence separatist forces,” Zhao added.
When asked about the incursions at a briefing Tuesday, Zhao said they weren’t a diplomatic matter.
The flights into the ADIZ — an area that Taiwan established to identify aircraft as they approach the island — and across the the US-drawn boundary had fallen off in recent weeks.
China has now sent 778 planes into the two key areas since Pelosi became the first House speaker in 25 years to visit Taiwan, an average of eight per day. Beijing responded to that visit with unprecedented military drills, including firing missiles over Taiwan.
The People’s Liberation Army tends to send more of the sorties — which probe Taiwan’s defenses and eat up its limited military capabilities — to respond to events it sees as provocations. It sent 25 planes into the ADIZ and across the median line on Sept. 8 as a bipartisan group of US lawmakers traveled to Taipei.
The flights across the line that the US drew in 1954 during an earlier period of cross-strait tensions were once a rare event, but China has used Pelosi’s one-night stay in Taipei to establish a lasting presence closer to Taiwan. The incursions serve to shrink the buffer zone between the two sides and cut the amount of time that Taiwan’s military has to react to a possible attack.
Taiwan would treat any Chinese incursion into the island’s airspace as a “first strike,” Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng told lawmakers in Taipei last month.
So far, Chinese military aircraft and warships have kept well outside the smaller 12 nautical mile (22 kilometer) area that Taiwan regards as defining its territorial sea and airspace.
Taiwan may be a key point of discussion next week when Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden are in Indonesia for the Group of 20 summit. Biden has repeatedly signaled the US would come to Taiwan’s defense in any attack. Xi sometimes uses fiery rhetoric regarding Taiwan’s status, such as last month at a congress of the ruling Communist Party when he said it should be “settled by Chinese people.”
Still, Jing Quan, the No. 3 official at the Chinese embassy in Washington, said last week his country had no timetable for unification. Those comments hit back at US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who said in late October that Beijing was trying to “speed up” its seizure of the island.