US condemns China for ‘provocative’ aircraft sorties into Taiwan defence zone

The United States has condemned China for “provocative” and “destabilising” military activity after Beijing sent nearly 100 fighter jets and bombers into Taiwan’s air defence zone over three consecutive days.

“The United States is very concerned by the People’s Republic of China’s provocative military activity near Taiwan, which is destabilising, risks miscalculations, and undermines regional peace and stability,” US state department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

“We urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure and coercion against Taiwan.”

Beijing marked its National Day on Friday with its biggest aerial show of force against Taiwan to date, buzzing the self-ruled democratic island with 38 warplanes, including nuclear-capable H-6 bombers.

That was followed by a new record incursion on Saturday by 39 planes, and at least 16 more on Sunday, said Taiwan, which accused Bejing of “bullying” and “damaging regional peace”.

“It’s evident that the world, the international community, rejects such behaviours by China more and more,” Taiwan’s premier, Su Tseng-chang, told reporters on Saturday.

Foreign minister, Joseph Wu, who has repeatedly said Taiwan would appreciate international intelligence and security assistance – but has not specifically requested military involvement – said the incursions were “threatening”.

Democratic Taiwan’s 23 million people live under the threat of invasion by China, which views the island as its territory and has vowed to one day seize it, by force if necessary.

Beijing has ramped up pressure on Taipei since the 2016 election of president Tsai Ing-wen, who has said she views the island as “already independent” and not part of a “one China”.

Under president Xi Jinping, Chinese warplanes are crossing into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone (IZ) with increasing frequency.

In the past two years Beijing has begun sending large sorties into Taiwan’s IZ on a near-daily basis, often to signal dissatisfaction at key moments – and to keep Taipei’s ageing fighter fleet regularly stressed.

Various analyses of flight data have also shown increasing use of the nuclear-capable H-6 bombers in the Taiwan-targeting flights.

With the recent activity in the Taiwanese IZ, I plotted out the last ~3 months’ worth of incursions, with data grouped by week. This shows a pattern leading up to the last few days. Data sourced from @MoNDefense. — Amelia (@ameliairheart) October 2, 2021

Xi has described Taiwan becoming part of the mainland as “inevitable”. The Global Times, a hawkish state-backed tabloid which publishes in English, on Sunday described the weekend sorties as a demonstration of “the strong ability of the PLA to form a wartime air attack”.

“The increase in the number of aircraft showed the PLA Air Force’s operational capabilities,” it said in an editorial.

“The PLA is forming a siege of Taiwan with a show of strength as it did in Beijing in 1949. There is no doubt about the future of the situation across the Taiwan Straits. The initiative of when and how to solve the Taiwan question is firmly in the hands of the Chinese mainland.”

US military officials have begun to talk openly about fears that China could consider the previously unthinkable and invade. While there is broad consensus that China will make a move on Taiwan, the timing and nature of such action is strongly debated among analysts and government figures.

Protection of Taiwan has become a rare bipartisan issue in Washington and a growing number of western nations such as Britain have begun joining the United States in “freedom of navigation” exercises to push back on China’s claims to the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait.

Price reiterated that the United States would “continue to assist Taiwan in maintaining a sufficient self-defence capability”.

“The US commitment to Taiwan is rock solid and contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and within the region,” he said.

Last month senior government ministers at the annual US and Australian ministerial consultation (Ausmin) stated mutual intent to “strengthen ties with Taiwan”, which they described as a “leading democracy and a critical partner for both countries”.

It came just days after the announcement of a new trilateral security deal between Australia, the UK, and the US (Aukus), aimed at countering China’s aggression, which prompted questions in London over the UK’s potential involvement in war. Prime minister Boris Johnson did not rule out UK action should China invade or attack Taiwan.

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