Taiwan scrambles jets after Beijing sends 52 aircraft to island’s air defence zone in two days
- On Sunday, 39 planes flew into the island’s ADIZ followed by 13 warplanes entering southwest of zone on Monday, according to Taiwan’s defence ministry
- Sorties came after the US and Japan wrapped up a six-day joint maritime drill south of Okinawa
The sorties followed 39 PLA warplanes – 34 fighter jets, four electronic warfare planes and a bomber – that flew into the island’s ADIZ on Sunday.
“In response, our air force scrambled jets, issued radio warnings and deployed air defence missile systems to monitor the activities of the PLA’s warplanes,” the ministry said in a statement on Monday.
The fly-bys came soon after the US-Japan drill, which started on January 17, wrapped up.
Observers said the large-scale air manoeuvre was a show of force to Taiwan, the US and Japan.
“As soon as the United States and Japan wrapped up their joint drill near Okinawa, there came the sorties. Very likely the Chinese communists meant it for a show of firepower to the United States and Japan,” said Lin Ying-yu, a research fellow at the Association of Strategic Foresight, a Taipei think tank.
Japan’s Maritime Self-Defence Force said it finished a six-day joint drill with the US Navy in waters south of Okinawa prefecture on Saturday. It sent its destroyer Hyuga to join 10 US Navy vessels, including two aircraft carriers – the USS Carl Vinson and the USS Abraham Lincoln – as well as a destroyer and an amphibious assault ship in the drill.
Chieh Chung, a senior researcher at National Policy Foundation, a think tank affiliated with the main opposition party, the Kuomintang, said Sunday’s fly-bys were concentrated in the southwest of the island’s ADIZ near Pratas and far from where the US and Japan held their joint drill.
“By keeping a distance, the PLA was careful to avoid triggering any unintended incident but at the same time it also wanted to send a signal to the US and Japan that it would not back off on issues relating to national sovereignty,” he said.
Chieh said that overall, intimidation of Taiwan from the fly-bys on Sunday was not as serious as the record sorties in October during which some PLA warplanes entered southeast of Taiwan’s air defence zone – a major point of access to the island’s eastern military zone.
The latest joint exercise came amid growing calls from US and Japanese politicians for their two countries to team up to come to Taiwan’s rescue should the PLA launch an attack against the island.
Beijing considers Taiwan its territory that must be taken under its control, by force if necessary. It has suspended official contact with the self-ruled island since Tsai Ing-wen of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party was elected president in 2016 and refused to accept the one-China principle.
In recent years, the PLA has sent warplanes to the island’s ADIZ almost daily as part of its strategy to ramp up pressure on Taiwan and test its air-defence system.