Taiwanese aircraft tail Chinese bombers on flight around island
Long-range mission comes a day after Taipei loses another diplomatic ally
Taiwan’s air force scrambled aircraft on Friday as mainland Chinese bombers flew around the self-ruled island, just a few hours after Taiwan vowed not to be cowed having lost another diplomatic ally amid growing pressure from Beijing.
Taiwan is China’s most sensitive territorial issue and a potential dangerous military flashpoint. Beijing claims the island as its territory and has vowed not to allow any attempts at what it views as Taiwanese separatism.
Tension between democratic Taiwan and its big neighbour has increased in recent months, with Beijing suspicious that the administration of President Tsai Ing-wen wants to push for the island’s formal independence.
Tsai, who took office in 2016, says she wants to maintain the status quo, but will protect Taiwan’s security and not be bullied by Beijing.
In the latest flight by People’s Liberation Army aircraft around Taiwan, two H-6 bombers passed through the Bashi Channel which separates Taiwan from the Philippines in the early hours of Friday and then rounded Taiwan via Japan’s Miyako Strait, to Taiwan’s northeast, the island’s defence ministry said.
Taiwanese aircraft accompanied and monitored the mainland’s bombers throughout, the ministry said, describing the PLA aircraft as being on a long-range training mission.
The people of Taiwan should not be alarmed as the air force was well able to monitor the PLA aircraft as they approached and during their missions and could ensure Taiwan’s security, the ministry added.
There was no immediate word from Beijing. It has said these missions, which have become increasingly frequent, are to send a warning to Taiwan not to engage in separatist activity.
On Thursday, Taiwan lost its second diplomatic ally in less than a month when Burkina Faso said it had cut ties with the island, after intense efforts from Beijing to encourage African countries to break with the island.
Tsai said Taiwan would not engage in “dollar diplomacy” and denounced Beijing’s methods, saying Taiwan and its partners in the international community would not cower to China’s pressure.
Taiwan has only one diplomatic ally left in Africa – the tiny kingdom of Swaziland – and formal relations with just 18 countries worldwide, many of them poor countries in Central America and the Pacific like Belize and Nauru.