China has flown 52 planes into Taiwan’s airspace on its largest mission yet in a dramatic escalation of tensions around the Pacific island.
Taipei said on Monday that 34 J-16 fighters accompanied 12 nuclear-capable H-6 bombers, two Su-30 jets and other military aircraft to its “air defense identification zone.”
It comes after a weekend in which China flew a total of 93 planes near the island in five separate missions — the largest of which involved 25 planes.
Meanwhile, Chinese state media released chilling new threats asking whether “Australia is willing to accompany Taiwan…to become cannon fodder” after the island’s foreign minister asked for help preparing its defenses.
34 J-16 fighters (file image) were among 52 Chinese planes flown into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone on Monday in the largest raid yet
The Chinese state spokesperson Global Times tweeted the threat on Monday, in response to Secretary of State Joseph Wu asking Australia and other “like-minded” countries to share military intelligence and security intelligence.
Separately, Global Times editor Hu Xijin tweeted that it is: “It’s only a matter of time before Taiwan’s separatist authorities fall” – describing the weekend’s show of force as a “military parade” to mark China’s national day.
But unlike the traditional “guard of honor” used at military parades, the troops that flew over the weekend are “arms focused on actual combat,” added an editorial in the same paper.
“The increase in the number of aircraft demonstrated the operational capabilities of the PLA Air Force,” the newspaper said, adding: “It is a clear and undeniable statement of China’s sovereignty over the island.”
The operations are designed to familiarize pilots with “battlefield conditions” so that they can fight “once the order to attack is given” as “experienced veterans,” the editorial concluded.
China has flown almost daily missions into Taiwan’s airspace since the beginning of the year, the island’s government has said, though most consist of just one aircraft.
But that changed dramatically over the weekend, with 38 planes flying into the “air defense identification zone” on Friday.
The planes flew in two separate sorties, the first of which included 25 planes and flew during the day and the second had 19 planes and flew at night.
On Saturday, another 39 planes flew in two separate sorties – one of 20 planes during the day and another of 19 planes at night.
On Sunday, another 16 planes flew close to the island in a single raid.
Twelve nuclear H-6 bombers also flew in the sortie, along with two Su-30 fighters and several other military aircraft
Self-governing Taiwan, home to the Republic of China that fought the Communist Party when it first emerged, considers itself an independent state, but Beijing considers it a breakaway province.
The Republic of China has longstanding ties to the US, which historically recognized it as the legitimate government of all of China.
Tensions around the island have been ongoing for a long time, but rose significantly in 2019 when President Xi Jinping pledged to “reunite” the islands – reserving the right to use force if necessary.
In response, the US has forged new alliances in the region to counterbalance Beijing’s growing power – including the Quad alliance between America, India, Japan and Australia.
Another important new alliance is the AUKUS Pact, under which the US and UK will provide Australia with its first nuclear submarines.
While the trio insist the deal is not intended to attack any country, few observers doubt it was intended to antagonize China and Beijing reacted angrily to the deal.
Since AUKUS was announced, Chinese flights near Taiwan have increased significantly and taken on a new meaning – with the UK and Australia potentially dragged into future battles.
Fighting around the island could also drag on the US, which has long pursued a policy of “strategic ambiguity” on Taiwan – refusing to say what it would do if the island were attacked.
President Biden suggested in a recent interview that he would be willing to go to war if China invades, although aides later insisted he was mistaken.