TAIPEI—China’s military flew 56 sorties near Taiwan, including flights by a dozen bombers, from the predawn hours into the night Monday, intensifying a streak of recent days shortly after the U.S. warned against such activity.
The People’s Liberation Army flights, which also included J-16 jet fighters and Y-8 submarine-spotting aircraft, followed 93 military sorties over the previous three days, according to Taiwan’s Defense Ministry, which tracks PLA activities near the island daily.
Taiwan’s government, which said the PLA had been conducting “large-scale intrusion exercises” in the maritime and airspace around Taiwan, demanded a stop to the behavior, according to the island’s state-owned Central News Agency, citing the Mainland Affairs Council. It said Taiwan would defend its sovereignty and that the government was cooperating with unspecified countries to contain what it called malicious provocations by the Chinese Communist Party.
The PLA’s flight paths, all near the southwestern side of the island in recent days, were in a zone that isn’t part of Taiwan’s airspace but that the island monitors for potential foreign incursions. Taipei claims as its airspace the 12 nautical miles out from its coast.
The timing of the deployment coincided with a weeklong holiday that began with National Day on Oct. 1 in China, although the PLA’s rationale wasn’t immediately known. China’s Taiwan Affairs Office didn’t respond to request for comment Monday evening Beijing time.
In a response to the U.S. State Department expressing concern over the weekend about Chinese military activity near Taiwan, a spokeswoman for China’s Foreign Ministry reasserted Beijing’s claim over Taiwan and urged Washington to stop sending “extremely wrong and irresponsible signals to the outside world.” Taiwan is a self-ruled island that Beijing claims as its territory and has vowed to take by military force if necessary.
Taiwan and China have had an unstable coexistence for more than seven decades. But concerns are rising that China may move against Taiwan to force a unification. WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib explains some of the causes for worry. Photo illustration: Laura Kammermann
Without citing the PLA’s recent activity near Taiwan, the spokeswoman,
said China reserves the right to take countermeasures to U.S. moves to strengthen military ties with Taiwan, including arms sales and U.S. military plane visits to the island, as well as U.S. warships crossing the Taiwan Strait.
Pentagon officials rejected Beijing’s criticisms, saying that the Navy is operating legally and that the exercises aren’t aimed at any one country but serve to bolster freedom of navigation in the region.
Military scholars and China experts say the PLA’s advances, its largest such show of force in the past year near Taiwan, are aimed at trying to deter Western powers that have sent naval carriers to the region, as well as at intimidating Taipei.
“It’s incredibly provocative and dangerous,” said
senior director at Project 2049 Institute, a U.S.-based nonprofit research organization that focuses on the Indo-Pacific region. He said he wouldn’t rule out a number of possible reasons for Beijing’s actions, including a direct response to potential U.S. activity in the Western Pacific, or a large-scale exercise that is part of preparations for an invasion of Taiwan one day.
“There’s a lot of opacity when it comes to Taiwan, and that increases the chances of a crisis or miscalculation,” he said.
Mr. Easton and other scholars expressed concern about the number of strategic bombers, which countries often use for political signaling. The U.S. has sent bombers near China and North Korea in the past but usually sends one or two such aircraft.
China’s H-6 bombers can be equipped with long-range missiles, so Beijing is showing it is capable of large-scale and long-distance combat, including its ability to threaten major air bases on Taiwan’s east coast, according to
a research fellow at the Taiwanese military-backed Institute for National Defense and Security Research.
In an unusual maneuver, the PLA began its flights at 3 a.m. on Monday, according to local media citing a social media account belonging to a Taiwanese military retiree who monitors military scanners. The PLA continued into the night, by sending four J-16 jet fighters after dark, according to Taiwan’s air force.
a former vice air marshal for Taiwan’s air force, said the PLA appears to be trying to improve its ability to engage in combat in the dark. “Improving on night combat means it’s close to being able to engage in actual combat,” he said.
The PLA has ramped up its presence around Taiwan over the past year, amid closer ties between Taipei and Washington. Military analysts say China’s activities have been an effective way to grind down Taiwan’s Air Force, which has to scramble its own jets.
At the same time, the U.S. Navy has stepped up freedom-of-navigation operations in and around the Taiwan Strait, with sailings by other Western nations including France and the U.K. as well.
U.S. carrier strike groups the Carl Vinson and Ronald Reagan were in the Philippine Sea, to Taiwan’s east, last Monday and Thursday, respectively, U.S. defense officials said. Over the weekend, the carriers conducted joint exercises with the U.K. and Japan, the officials said. The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said on Sept. 24 that the Ronald Reagan was in the South China Sea for the second time this year, while earlier in the month, it said the Carl Vinson was operating in the region for the first time this year.
The Japan-based Ronald Reagan returned from the Persian Gulf where it was supporting the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Carl Vinson arrived in the Pacific while the Ronald Reagan was away from the region.
The PLA has flown more than 800 sorties of warplanes near Taiwan over the past year, according to a Wall Street Journal tally of the activity based on figures from Taiwan’s Defense Ministry, which began releasing such data on Sept. 16, 2020. Most of the aircraft were dispatched this year.
—Nancy A. Youssef contributed to this article.
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