In a retort to Taiwan, a state-run newspaper in China on Monday reported that flights by Chinese fighter jets through the Taiwan Strait over the weekend were a message meant for the United States.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced Sunday on Twitter that two Chinese air force J-11 jets “violated the long-held tacit agreement by crossing the median line of the Taiwan Strait.”
“It was an intentional, reckless and provocative action,” the ministry tweeted. “We’ve informed regional partners and condemn China for such behavior.”
Monday, the state-run Global Times in Beijing quoted an anonymous Chinese military expert who dismissed Taiwan’s concerns and aimed his remarks instead at Washington.
“Taiwan is not worth targeting anymore. All of our military strength is used to tell the U.S. to stop where it should stop,” the newspaper quoted the anonymous expert as saying. “The island of Taiwan causes trouble because the U.S. supports it. When the U.S. calms down, it will calm down.”
The median line divides the approximately 100-mile-wide strait that separates mainland China from Taiwan. China rarely sends its forces across the median line, although it did so frequently in the 1980s and ‘90s, according to a report in the Japan Times.
On Monday, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said on her Facebook page that the Chinese jets crossed back to China’s side after the Taiwanese air force scrambled its own jets to warn them away.
Tsai in a Facebook post said she instructed the Taiwanese air force to “stage a forceful expulsion … against any provocation by incursion of the median line,” according to the South China Morning Post on Monday.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman denied knowledge of the reported median crossover during a daily press briefing Monday, according to a transcript of the briefing.
Tsai tweeted Monday she would “resolutely protect Taiwan’s security and sovereignty” in a post that included a picture of five fighter jets.
“As China continues to challenge regional security, I want to remind the Beijing authorities: do not deliberately provoke; do not instigate trouble; and do not sabotage the cross-strait status quo,” Tsai said on Twitter.
The Global Times in its report Monday said “the Chinese mainland has never recognized the line” because Beijing sees Taiwan as part of its territory.
The crossover came a week after the U.S. on March 24-25 sailed the USS Curtis Wilbur and Coast Guard cutter Bertholf through the Taiwan Strait, the third such voyage by U.S. warships this year. The incident Sunday also happened within days of Tsai’s visit to Hawaii, where she made new requests for F-16 fighter jets, according to the Japan Times.
The U.S. has sent vessels through the Taiwan Strait almost once a month since October. The USS Stethem and cargo ship USNS Cesar Chavez passed through in February. The USS McCampbell and fleet replenishment oiler USNS Walter S. Diehl sailed there in January. The USS Stockdale and replenishment oiler USNS Pecos sailed the strait in November, preceded by the USS Curtis Wilbur and USS Antietam in October.
Prior to October, there had been only one Taiwan Strait transit by U.S. naval vessels — the USS Mustin and USS Benfold in July — reported in more than a year.
In its Monday article, the Global Times wrote that Beijing’s flight operations in the strait “could become routine and the ‘middle line’ could become history” if the U.S. and Taiwan “upgrade their provocative actions” against China.
“The possible fly-through by J-11 fighter jets sent a strong signal that no one can touch the bottom line of China on the Taiwan question, not ‘Taiwan independence’ forces, not the U.S., which is attempting to strengthen its ties with Taiwan,” the Global Times reported, quoting the unnamed expert.
In the future, China may fly warplanes not just across the Strait’s median line but over the island of Taiwan itself, the newspaper quoted the expert as saying.
“If the mainland decides to do so, the island and the U.S. will have absolutely no way to stop it,” the state-run newspaper wrote.
In the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency’s January China Military Power report, reunification with Taiwan was identified as the “primary driver” for Beijing’s “military modernization” and militarization of islands and reefs in the South and East China seas to project power far from the mainland.
“Beijing’s anticipation that foreign forces would intervene in a Taiwan scenario led the [Chinese military] to develop a range of systems to deter and deny foreign regional force projection,” the DIA wrote in the report. “… During this modernization process, [Chinese] ground, air, naval and missile forces have become increasingly able to project power during peacetime and in the event of regional conflicts.”
The U.S. does not officially recognize Taiwan’s sovereignty and remains committed to the One China policy, which acknowledges that Taiwan is part of China.
Still, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson, after a visit with China’s Joint Staff Department chief in January, said “we remain opposed to any sort of unilateral action on either side of the strait to change that status quo.”
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