The Chinese military has escalated its threatening flights by fighter jets and other aircraft around Taiwan, actions believed to be aimed at testing the Taiwan military’s defense capability in case of a contingency and keeping the U.S. military in check.
According to Taiwan’s Defense Ministry, Chinese aircraft entered the southwestern part of Taiwan’s air defense identification zone nine times in June. This is an unusually high number, surpassing in just one month the seven incursions recorded from January to May.
At least five different types of plane, including China’s main J-10 fighter, have been identified. Taiwan’s Central News Agency reported that another Chinese military plane entered the zone on July 4.
According to Japan’s Defense Ministry, two H-6 bombers passed between the main island of Okinawa and Miyako Island on June 28 and flew over the Pacific Ocean. They neared southeastern Taiwan, avoiding Japanese airspace and circling around it, but moved to turn back before reaching Taiwan.
The Chinese military began flight training, including having bombers circle Taiwan, after Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s administration took office in 2016. Taiwan’s air force has responded by scrambling its fighter jets whenever Chinese warplanes have approached.
There is growing concern that China may try to normalize its entry into the air defense identification zone in the future.
Taiwan has set up its own zone, but it cannot realistically monitor the actions of the Chinese military because the zone overlaps with the northwestern part of mainland China.
On June 23, Tsai instructed senior military officials to remain vigilant and ensure safety at all times.
The U.S. military has previously operated warplanes and naval vessels in the Taiwan Strait to demonstrate its willingness to defend Taiwan. According to sources familiar with U.S.-China relations, the U.S. military has recently stepped up its activities east of Taiwan.
China claims that the U.S. military is unilaterally increasing tensions, justifying China’s provocative actions. When a U.S. military transport plane passed over Taiwan on June 9, China’s Defense Ministry said it was “unauthorized to fly over Chinese territory,” and quickly increased the number of Chinese aircraft entering the identification zone.
There are also concerns about unforeseen collisions between U.S. and Chinese military aircraft. According to Taiwan media, on June 24 a Chinese military plane approached a U.S. anti-submarine patrol aircraft that was refueling in the air over southeast Taiwan.
The U.S. patrol plane is believed to have been monitoring a Chinese strategic missile nuclear submarine based in the South China Sea.