Taiwan scrambles jets as mainland China’s air force holds drill near island

Bombers, fighter jets and transport planes flew through Bashi Channel en route to Western Pacific, Taipei said

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 March, 2018, 6:06pm
UPDATED : Monday, 26 March, 2018, 9:44pm

Taiwan on Monday scrambled aircraft to shadow military planes from China’s mainland as they flew through the Bashi Channel to the south of the island, its defence ministry said, the latest such incident to add to the tension between Taipei and Beijing.

An unspecified number of H-6 bombers, Su-30 fighter jets and Y-8 transport aircraft flew over the waterway en route to the Western Pacific Ocean, the ministry said in a statement.

They were tracked by Taiwanese jets until the mainland aircraft returned to base, it said.

On March 21, Taiwan sent ships and aircraft to shadow a mainland aircraft carrier group that sailed through the narrow Taiwan Strait.

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The self-ruled island is one of China’s most sensitive issues and a potential military flashpoint.

The exercises by the mainland’s People’s Liberation Army come at a time of heightened tension between Beijing and Taipei, and follow strong warnings by Chinese President Xi Jinping against Taiwan separatism.

Beijing views Taiwan as its territory and considers the island a breakaway province since the 1949 civil war. Xi said last week that any attempts at separatism would face the “punishment of history”.

Beijing’s hostility towards Taiwan has grown since Tsai Ing-wen from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party was elected president in 2016.

In a meeting with New Taipei City Mayor Eric Chu in Shanghai on Monday, the newly appointed head of the mainland’s policymaking Taiwan Affairs Office, Liu Jieyi, said Beijing was clear on its opposition to Taiwan independence, state television reported.

China sends carrier through Taiwan Strait after Xi Jinping warns against separatism

Liu told Chu that Beijing hoped both sides of the Taiwan Strait could work together for the peaceful development of relations and “jointly promote the process of the peaceful reunification of the motherland”.

The New Taipei City government said in a statement that Chu, from Taiwan’s mainland-friendly opposition party, Kuomintang, told Liu he too hoped for peaceful cooperation.

“Although the political situation has changed, what people hope for most is peace,” said Chu, who Tsai defeated for the presidency two years ago.

While Beijing insists it has no hostile intent, its military exercises and patrols around Taiwan, and in the busy South China Sea, have touched a nerve in the region and in the United States.

Second senior US official sent to Taiwan under new travel act

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Alex Wong angered Beijing during a recent visit to Taiwan by saying the United States’ commitment to the island had never been stronger.

Beijing is already furious about a law signed two weeks ago by US President Donald Trump that encourages senior US officials to travel to Taiwan to meet their counterparts and vice versa.