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Taipei blasts ‘provocative’ flight by Chinese fighters in Taiwan Strait

An armed Chinese fighter jet flies near a U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon patrol aircraft over the South China Sea about 135 miles east of Hainan Island in international airspace. (U.S. Navy/Released)

Taiwan has protested what it called a “reckless” and “provocative” flight by two Chinese fighter jets across the so-called median line of the Taiwan Strait, the country’s foriegn and defense ministries said late Sunday.

“At 11 a.m., March 31, 2 PLAAF J-11 jets violated the long-held tacit agreement by crossing the median line of the #Taiwan Strait,” the country’s Foreign Ministry said in a tweet. “It was an intentional, reckless & provocative action. We’ve informed regional partners & condemn #China for such behavior.”

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry also confirmed the flight, saying that the Chinese warplanes had entered the Strait’s southwestern airspace and that it had scrambled fighters in response.

The flight was rare in that Beijing and Taipei have generally respected the median line in the Taiwan Strait, usually keeping their warplanes and ships from crossing this line.

The 180-km-wide Taiwan Strait separates communist China from self-governed and democratic Taiwan, which Beijing views as a renegade province that must be brought back into the fold — by force if necessary.

Sunday’s move comes less than a week after the U.S. sent ships through the Strait — the third time in as many months — amid Washington’s ramped-up naval activities in the waterway.

Observers have said that those sailings have likely been interpreted by China as implicit support for self-ruled Taiwan.

The most recent saw the U.S. send the Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture-based USS Curtis Wilbur destroyer and the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Bertholf through the strait on March 25 and 26. That mission was unusual, experts said, in that it was believed to be the first one involving a coast guard vessel.

Although the waterway is regarded as international waters, China has long been sensitive about the presence of U.S. military forces there.

That presence has grown since last year, with the most recent operation being the sixth known transit in about seven months. The U.S. Navy also sailed two ships through the strait in October and November — operations that were shadowed by multiple Chinese warships — and conducted a similar operation in July. Prior to that, the operations were believed to occur only about once a year.

The U.S. has no formal ties with Taiwan but is bound by law to help it defend itself and is the island’s main source of arms. The Pentagon says Washington has sold Taipei more than $15 billion in weaponry since 2010. Recently, Taiwan has sought bolstered military assistance from the U.S., requesting improvements to its fleet of F-16 fighter jets.

Beijing has called Taiwan “the most important and sensitive issue in China-U.S. relations” and has bolstered its military presence near the island nation, sailing its sole operating aircraft carrier through the Taiwan Strait in January and March last year and holding large-scale “encirclement” exercises and bomber training throughout 2018.

In a report released in January, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency noted that China continues to undertake ambitious steps to modernize and better equip its military — steps that are driven primarily by “Beijing’s longstanding interest to eventually compel Taiwan’s reunification with the mainland and deter any attempt by Taiwan to declare independence.”

“Beijing’s anticipation that foreign forces would intervene in a Taiwan scenario led the (People’s Liberation Army) to develop a range of systems to deter and deny foreign regional force projection,” the report added.


© 2019 the Japan Times (Tokyo)

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