Taiwan scrambled fighter jets for the second day in a row on Thursday against a large number of Chinese military aircraft that entered an air defence buffer zone off its south-western coast.
On both Wednesday and Thursday, two types of Chinese fighters and military transport aircraft entered Taiwan’s air defence identification zone, the Taiwanese defence ministry said.
An ADIZ is an area that extends beyond a country’s territorial airspace, and is meant to provide a buffer against hostile air incursions. When a foreign aircraft enters the zone without warning, the country scrambles fighters to identify it and chase it away if deemed a threat.
The repeated incursions confirmed concerns in Taipei, reported by the Financial Times this year, that the People’s Liberation Army would ratchet up military pressure closer to Taiwan’s borders once the coronavirus pandemic receded in China.
China claims Taiwan as part of its territory and threatens to attack it if the country refuses to submit to Beijing’s control indefinitely.
“[We] once again urge the Chinese Communists not to destroy the regional status quo of peace and stability and cause resentment among the Taiwanese people,” said Taiwan’s defence ministry. “They should act as a creator of peace in the region.”
Taipei’s alarm comes as the PLA and the US military have entered into open competition. Both have sharply stepped up patrols and exercises in Asia and the western Pacific, particularly around Taiwan and in the South China Sea.
Washington and Beijing frequently accuse each other of posing a risk to regional security. Although the US does not have an official alliance with Taiwan, it has a commitment to help the country defend itself.
Military experts said the latest Chinese air manoeuvres were part of a PLA effort to gather electronic signals intelligence. Such activity includes reconnaissance aircraft flying in a zigzag pattern to determine the exact location and operations of enemy radars.
Chang Ching, a research fellow at the Strategic Studies Society ROC and retired Taiwan military officer, said both the US military and PLA had conducted such operations in the vicinity of Penghu, an archipelago off Taiwan’s south-western coast, for months.
“They are collecting intelligence on our radar installations on Penghu and in Tainan,” he said. He added that the large number of flights by Chinese aircraft over the past two days was due to the fact that China sent fighters to escort its reconnaissance planes.
“Each reconnaissance flights takes several hours, and since the fighters cannot stay that long, they have to take turns,” he said.