China‘s military staged a massive show of intimidation over the Taiwan Strait over the weekend, dispatching bombers, fighter jets and other aircraft into Taiwan‘s defensive air space in two waves Friday and Saturday, by far the biggest such incursion in recent years.
The sorties, which brought a warning from the Biden administration condemning Beijing’s “coercion,” were hailed by China‘s nationalistic, state-controlled Global Times as the equivalent of staging a “National Day military parade” in the skies above the 100-mile waterway separating the mainland from Taiwan, which China‘s Communist leaders consider an integral part of the country and have vowed one day to reclaim.
The missions coincided with the 72nd anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China and were a “clear and unmistakable declaration of China‘s sovereignty over the island,” the Global Times said in an editorial Sunday. The news website compared the display to the traditional military parades showcasing new weapons and military craft in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
Taiwanese officials said 38 planes were involved in the Friday sorties, followed by 39 a day later. The previous one-day record had been on June 15, when 28 Chinese military aircraft flew into the southern end of the island-democracy’s claimed air defensive zone.
Taiwan officials said most of the planes taking part in the incursion were J-16 and Su-30 fighter jets, along with at least two Y-8 anti-submarine warfare aircraft, H-6 bombers and a KJ-500 early-warning intelligence plane.
Taipei and Washington quickly condemned the show of force.
“China has always conducted brutal and barbarian actions to jeopardize regional peace, Taiwanese Premier Su Tseng-chang told reporters after the first sorties Saturday.
The U.S. State Department warned that China was playing with fire in the tense South China Sea, raising the risk of a miscalculation or unplanned incident in the heavily militarized zone.
The U.S. is “very concerned by [China‘s] provocative military activity near Taiwan, which is destabilizing, risks miscalculations, and undermines regional peace and stability,” department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement. “We urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure and coercion against Taiwan.”
The statement added that the U.S. will “continue to assist Taiwan in maintaining a sufficient self-defense capability.”
Military analysts say the frequent and growing sorties — which so far have avoided violating Taiwan‘s 12-mile coastal sovereignty zone, serve multiple purposes for the China, re-asserting its sovereignty claims, testing Taiwan‘s responses and capabilities in the event of an actual invasion, and wearing out Taiwanese defensive forces which must be kept in a constant state of alert.
As China has stepped up its air missions and belligerent rhetoric regarding Taiwan, the U.S. and its allies have been increasing their own military assets as a warning to Beijing.
The latest air campaign comes just weeks after the Biden administration announced a new defensive partnership with Britain and Australia which is eventually designed to supply Canberra with a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.
The weekend display also came after Britain sent a warship through the Taiwan strait earlier in the week for the first time in more than a decade.
Taiwanese Defense Minister Joseph Wu on Sunday tweeted out his thanks to the State Department for the strong message of support and accused China of not even trying to conceal its hostile intentions anymore.
“Threatening? Of course,” the minister’s Twitter account said of the warplane incursions. “It’s strange [China] doesn’t bother faking excuses anymore.”