TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan’s air force scrambled jets for a second consecutive day on Saturday as multiple Chinese aircraft approached the island and crossed the sensitive midline of the Taiwan Strait, with the island’s government urging Beijing to “pull back from the edge.”
Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said 19 Chinese aircraft were involved, one more than in the previous day, with some crossing the Taiwan Strait midline and others flying into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone off its southwest coast.
It said China, which claims democratic Taiwan as its own territory, sent 12 J-16 fighters, two J-10 fighters, two J-11 fighters, two H-6 bombers and one Y-8 anti-submarine aircraft. According to a map the ministry provided, none got close to mainland Taiwan itself or flew over it.
“ROCAF scrambled fighters, and deployed air defence missile system to monitor the activities,” the ministry said in a tweet, referring to the Republic of China Air Force, the formal name of Taiwan’s air force.
China had on Friday announced combat drills near the Taiwan Strait and denounced what it called collusion between the island and the United States.
U.S. Undersecretary for Economic Affairs Keith Krach arrived in Taipei on Thursday for a three-day visit, the most senior State Department official to come to Taiwan in four decades, angering China.
Taiwan’s Defence Ministry, in a separate statement, said China was carrying out provocative activities, seriously damaging peace and stability.
“The Defence Ministry sternly condemns this, and calls on the mainland authorities to control themselves and pull back from the edge.”
The latest Chinese flights came the same day Taiwan held a memorial service for former president Lee Teng-hui, dubbed “Mr. Democracy” for ending autocratic rule in favour of free elections and championing Taiwan’s separate identity from China.
Lee, who died in July, became Taiwan’s first democratically elected president in March 1996 after eight months of intimidating war games and missile tests by China in waters around the island.
Those events brought China and Taiwan to the verge of conflict, prompting the United States to send an aircraft carrier task force to the area in a warning to Beijing’s government.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Gerry Doyle