Taiwan has accused China of purposefully inflaming tensions in East Asia, after Chinese warplanes crossed the sensitive median line across the narrow strait that separates the mainland and the self-governing island almost 40 times on Friday and Saturday.
The repeated incursions came from multiple directions and involved a combination of sophisticated fighter jets and heavy bombers.
“What we are seeing now is not just a situation across the Taiwan Strait, but a regional situation. China’s recent military activities, especially in the past few days, clearly constitute a threat of force, which is part of their verbal attacks and military threats,” Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen told reporters.
On Friday and Saturday, a total of 37 Chinese aircraft, a mixture of H-6 bombers, J-10, J-11 and J-16 fighters, and an Y-8 antisubmarine warfare plane crossed the median line, according to Taiwan’s Defense Ministry press releases.
The ministry said in a statement that it “issued radio warnings, scrambled fighters and deployed air defense missile systems to monitor the activities.” In her remarks, Tsai said that such actions would make other countries in the region “more aware of the threat posed by China.”
The Chinese activity came as United States under secretary of state for economic, energy and environmental affairs, Keith Krach, held meetings in the island’s capital Taipei, ahead of a memorial service on Saturday for former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui.
The three-day visit to the island was denounced by Beijing, with a spokesman for the country’s Foreign Ministry demanding the two sides “immediately stop” official exchanges.
China has reacted with increasing anger at warming ties between Taipei and Washington, and has ramped up military drills in the waters around the island which Beijing continues to view as an inseparable part of its territory despite the two sides have been governed separately for over seven decades.
On Monday, Beijing said its forces are operating legally. “Taiwan is an inalienable part of Chinese territory, and there is no so-called median line,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said.
The Taiwan Strait median line has been an informal but largely respected border of control for Beijing and Taipei. According to Taiwan and United States government reports, prior to the weekend, Beijing’s warplanes had only crossed it intentionally three times since 1999 — once in March 2019, once in February of this year, and again during a visit by US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar in August this year.