Taiwan reports record Chinese incursions into its air defence zone

Defence ministry says it detected at least 56 flights hours after US urged Beijing to cease ‘provocative’ activity

China sent a record number of military aircraft into Taiwan’s air defence zone on Monday, the fourth consecutive day of such air incursions by Beijing amid growing fears of further escalation.

Taiwan’s ministry of defence said it had detected at least 52 flights during daylight hours on Monday, including 36 fighter jets, 12 H-6 bombers, two transport aircraft and two surveillance aircraft. Late on Monday it reported another four fighter jets crossing into the zone after dark.

It followed consecutive missions of a then-record 38 planes on Friday, China’s national day, 39 on Saturday, and 16 on Sunday. Monday’s incursions into the air defence identification zone (ADIZ) – a buffer outside a country’s airspace – came hours after the US state department urged Beijing to “cease” its activity, which it labelled “provocative” and “destabilising”.

The warplanes recorded during the day on Monday brought the total number for October to 149, surpassing September’s 117, the previous highest monthly total recorded this year. The use of J-16 fighter jets also overtook reconnaissance planes as the most common aircraft in the People’s Liberation Army sorties, said the Washington DC-based defence analyst Gerald C Brown.

Brown said that while the timing of the weekend’s activity with China’s national day was not surprising, the size of the missions “caught people off guard”.

All 56 planes flew routes out into the south-west corner of Taiwan’s ADIZ and back, near the disputed Pratas Island in the South China Sea. In response, Taiwan’s defence ministry said it had tasked combat air patrol aircraft, issued radio warnings and deployed air defence missile systems to monitor the activity.

Beijing considers Taiwan to be a province of China it must retake, by force if necessary. Under the leadership of Xi Jinping, who has made “reuniting” China and Taiwan a core legacy issue for his presidency, PLA activity has markedly increased, with near-daily sorties in the last two years.

In a regular press briefing on Monday, the spokesperson for China’s ministry of foreign affairs, Hua Chunying, condemned the US’s comments on the incursions, saying China would “resolutely crush all attempts at Taiwan independence”.

Hua accused the US of violating the “one-China principle”, which is Beijing’s official claim that Taiwan is a part of China. The US does not subscribe to the one-China principle, and its own one-China policy acknowledges only that Beijing makes the claim.

The PLA sorties– like military drills, disinformation campaigns and cyber-attacks – are a greyzone activity: combat-adjacent tactics that deliberately do not meet the threshold for an act of war, but which serve to intimidate and exhaust another party.

The potential circumstances and timing is debated, but there is general consensus that the likelihood of Beijing making a move on Taiwan is higher than it has been for decades, and world governments are increasingly speaking out against China’s acts of aggression, or sending military assets to the region for “freedom of navigation” exercises.

As cross-strait tensions worsen and activity increases, analysts fear the greatest danger for military conflict is through a greyzone tactic-related incident escalating.

The timing of larger-than-usual bouts of activity by the PLA is frequently attributed to significant events, or as a response to acts by Taiwan or allied nations to which Beijing takes exception. Taiwan celebrates the Republic of China’s national day on Sunday, and there have been significant multilateral announcements in recent weeks, designed to counter China or support Taiwan.

“The PLA doest exactly go and roll out the specific details on why they’re doing things,” said Brown. “People focus a lot on the signalling side of things, and usually with the larger incursions there is a signalling component, but more often it’s about intelligence gathering, wearing down Taiwan’s air force, and pilot training.”


Helen Davidson in Taipei

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
China sends 19 aircraft into Taiwan’s air defence zone
Sortie by People’s Liberation Army air force includes fighter jets and bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons

Helen Davidson in Taipei

06, Sep, 2021 @9:34 AM

Article image
Will China turn Taiwan into the next Crimea?
US support for Taiwan may prove red rag to bullish China given trade war and military rivalry

Simon Tisdall

03, Apr, 2018 @12:12 PM

Article image
Sharp fall in China’s global standing as poll shows backing for Taiwan defence
Survey finds pro-China sentiment has collapsed in many nations while positive opinion of US has rebounded

Jon Henley

23, Oct, 2022 @11:00 AM

Article image
Chinese ambassador warns British MPs against visiting Taiwan
Zheng Zeguang spoke of ‘severe consequences in China-UK relations’ if politicians go to island

Vincent Ni

02, Aug, 2022 @8:39 PM

Article image
US says Beijing has no reason to turn Pelosi’s expected Taiwan visit into a ‘crisis’
National security council says speaker has ‘right to visit’ after China warns its military would ‘not sit idly by’

Vincent Ni China affairs correspondent and Ed Pilkington in New York

01, Aug, 2022 @8:29 PM

Article image
Fears Biden’s Taiwan comments may raise tensions despite rowback
President said US would ‘get involved ’ if China attacked Taiwan, which some saw as policy shift

Helen Davidson in Taipei

25, May, 2022 @3:35 PM

Article image
Trump's phone call with Taiwan president risks China's wrath
Diplomatic experts predict fraught start to US relations with Beijing after president-elect’s conversation with Tsai Ing-wen

Tom Phillips in Beijing, Nicola Smith in Taipei andNicky Woolf in San Francisco

03, Dec, 2016 @10:19 AM

Article image
Blinken clashes with China over US support for Taiwan
Beijing warns against interference, as US secretary of state also urges China to meet climate responsibilities

Patrick Wintour in Rome

31, Oct, 2021 @3:32 PM

Article image
Taiwan news channel accidentally airs false report of Chinese invasion
CTS apologises for panic caused by broadcast of mocked-up captions it says it created for security drills

Helen Davidson in Taipei

20, Apr, 2022 @9:43 AM

Article image
US would defend Taiwan if attacked by China, says Joe Biden
President says US’s responsibility to protect island is ‘even stronger’ after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Justin McCurry in Tokyo, Vincent Ni and agencies

23, May, 2022 @11:26 PM