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PLA J-16 fighter jets are among the aircraft to have made night incursions into Taiwan’s southeast ADIZ on the weekend. Photo:

Beijing sends record 52 fighter jets to test Taiwan, raising fear of mishaps

  • PLA has sent 145 warplanes to the island’s ADIZ since Friday as part of its strategy to ramp up pressure on Taiwan and test its air defences
  • In addition to flexing its military might for Taiwan, the PLA is showing its strength before a joint drill involving Western forces in the South China Sea
Taiwan’s defence ministry said 52 mainland Chinese fighter jets flew to the self-ruled island’s southwest air defence identification zone on Monday, a record number that has raised concerns of unintended incidents between the armed forces.
The island said it had scrambled jets and deployed missiles to warn off the mainland military aircraft, including 34 J-16 fighter jets, 12 H-6 bombers and two Su-30 jets.
It came after Beijing sent 38 warplanes to Taiwan’s air defence zone on Friday, followed by 39 on Saturday and 16 on Sunday.

Analysts warned that conflicts between Taiwan and mainland China could surface if the People’s Liberation Army made entries to the island’s southeast ADIZ – a major point of access to Taiwan’s eastern military zone – “a new normal”.

Beijing has sent 145 warplanes to the island’s ADIZ since Friday as part of its strategy to ramp up pressure on Taiwan and test its air-defence system. It sees the self-ruled island as its territory that must be taken under its control, by force if necessary.

While most of the sorties took place at Taiwan’s southwest ADIZ, a dozen PLA warplanes, including 10 J-16 fighter jets, made night passes into Taiwan’s southeast ADIZ on Friday.

The aircraft flew towards the Bashi Channel and made a left turn to the island’s southeast ADIZ, according to Taiwan’s defence ministry.

US urges China to stop ‘provocative’ Taiwan flyovers

Analysts said while the large-scale sorties were a show of force to Taiwan and the United States, they also showed the PLA’s joint combat abilities, including the ability to mobilise warplanes from different military zones on the mainland and to operate at night.

“What is worth noting was the PLA’s deployment of 10 J-16 fighter jets and two H-6 bombers for night missions, which included those in Bashi Channel and southeast of Taiwan’s ADIZ,” said Chieh Chung, a researcher at the Association of Strategic Foresight, a Taipei-based think tank.

He said the PLA was likely to extend its sorties from southwest of Taiwan’s ADIZ to the southeast in the coming days.

“Through the south or southeast ADIZ, the PLA warplanes are able to more conveniently access Taiwan’s military zone in Taitung and Hualien in the event of a conflict and check [the] US forces in the Bashi Channel if it comes to rescue,” Chieh said.

By sending more planes to Taiwan’s southeast ADIZ, it would create “a new normal” for PLA incursions in this area, he said.

“This would not only further exhaust Taiwan’s air force as it had to be on even greater alert during each incursion to prepare for PLA’s possible attacks on military bases in Taitung and Hualien, but it would also lead to misjudgment and, hence, unintended incidents,” Chieh said.

Taiwan reveals high cost of PLA sorties with air force budget boost

Beijing has suspended official exchanges with Taipei since Tsai Ing-wen of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party was elected president in 2016 and refused to accept the one-China principle.

Alexander Huang Chieh-cheng, a professor of international relations and strategic studies at Tamkang University in Taipei, said PLA fly-bys to Taiwan’s ADIZ for training and drills had already become a “normal matter” in the past year.

He said the PLA was showing its strength to a domestic audience during the mainland’s National Day and ahead of the personnel reshuffle in the Communist Party congress next year. It was also flexing its muscles ahead of Exercise Bersama Gold, a drill involving Australia, Britain and the US in the South China Sea this week.
“The PLA wants to send a strong signal to this joint drill, especially after Australia, the UK and the US formed a trilateral security pact obviously targeting Beijing,” he said, referring to the Aukus alliance.

Huang said that although Beijing had ramped up military pressure on Taiwan, it had no plans to take the island back or send forces to attack.

On Monday, Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu warned of looming war with the mainland and called on Australia to increase intelligence sharing and security cooperation as Beijing intensified a campaign of military intimidation.

Speaking to ABC’s China Tonight programme in Australia, Wu said that if the PLA were to launch an actual strike, the island would be ready to repel it.

“The defence of Taiwan is in our own hands, and we are absolutely committed to that,” he said.

Wu said Taiwan would fight to the end if Beijing launched a war against the island.

“I’m sure that if China is going to launch an attack against Taiwan, I think they are going to suffer tremendously as well.”

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Record incursion in Taiwan’s airspace involves 56 planes