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China sends record 18 bombers into Taiwan air defense zone

Chinese H-6K bomber, flies in a joint air patrol with Russian aircraft, Dec. 22, 2020. (Russian Ministry of Defence)
December 13, 2022

The Chinese military sent a record 18 strategic bombers into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) on Tuesday.

In a Twitter post, the Ministry of National Defense for the Republic of China – the name of the government in Taiwan – said 29 Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) aircraft and three PLA Navy (PLAN) vessels were detected operating around Taiwan on Tuesday. The Taiwanese defense ministry tweeted that 21 of the 29 detected aircraft had entered Taiwan’s ADIZ, including a Y-8 aircraft configured for reconnaissance, a Y-8 configured for anti-submarine warfare, a J-11 fighter jet and 18 H-6 bombers.

An ADIZ is a section of airspace nations will monitor for incoming aerial activity. Many countries unilaterally set up and monitor ADIZs, but these are not the same as sovereign airspaces, which are recognized by international law.

China has flown military aircraft around Taiwan’s ADIZ on a near-daily basis for years. China has sent larger numbers of military aircraft into Taiwan’s ADIZ in a single day but Tuesday’s sortie represents the largest number of strategic bombers China has flown into Taiwan’s ADIZ in a single day.

The Chinese H-6 bomber is based on the Soviet-era Tupolev Tu-16 bomber. China operates a number of different H-6 bomber variants, some of which are outfitted for conventional weapons and some of which are capable of carrying and deploying nuclear weapons.

China frequently sends particularly large waves of military aircraft toward Taiwan in moments where relations are particularly strained with the U.S. or with the government on Taiwan. Tuesday’s Chinese aerial incursion came after China placed import bans on Taiwanese food and beverages, leading Taiwanese Premier Su Tseng-chang to accuse China of violating international trade rules, Channel News Asia reported.

The Taiwanese military said it monitored the movement of these 18 Chinese bombers throughout the Taiwanese ADIZ and military aircraft, naval vessels, and land-based missile systems to be on alert.

Taiwan governs itself as an independent nation, but China considers the island a part of its territory. Chinese officials have frequently alluded to “reunification” with Taiwan, potentially by force.

The U.S. Department of Defense believes China could take control of Taiwan in one of four ways. Those ways include an air and maritime blockade to cut Taiwan off from the rest of the world and force their surrender; a limited force campaign of cyber attacks and limited conventional strikes to coerce Taiwan into capitulation; an air and missile campaign to knock out Taiwanese infrastructure and political leadership to convince the Taiwanese people to submit to Chinese rule; and a full-scale invasion of the island.

According to a recent DoD annual report China’s military capabilities, the Chinese military is increasingly using its military to exert pressure over Taiwan, however Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Gen. Pat Ryder said “we don’t believe that an invasion [of Taiwan] is imminent.”