China sent 38 warplanes into the skies around Taiwan on Friday, the highest number of Chinese military aircraft to breach the island’s Air Defense Identification Zone in a single day since Taipei began publicly reporting such activities last year, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said Friday night.
The People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) aircraft came in two waves, the Defense Ministry said.
Twenty-five PLA warplanes entered the southwestern corner of the ADIZ during daylight hours, and another 13 planes entered the island’s southwest ADIZ on Friday night, the ministry said in a statement.
While the Chinese planes in the afternoon sortie stayed in the extreme southwestern part of the ADIZ, the planes involved in the evening flight flew through the defense zone and hooked up toward the northeast before reversing course and returning to the Chinese mainland, the Defense Ministry said.
The 25 PLA planes involved in the daylight incursion included 18 J-16 fighters, four Su-30 fighters, two H-6 bombers and one Y-8 anti-submarine warfare aircraft, according to the Defense Ministry.
The later flight included 10 J-16s, two H-6s and one KJ-500 airborne early warning aircraft, it added.
The incursions did not violate Taiwan’s sovereign airspace, which extends 12 nautical miles from its coast. The US Federal Aviation Administration defines an ADIZ as “a designated area of airspace over land or water within which a country requires the immediate and positive identification, location and air traffic control of aircraft in the interest of the country’s national security.”
The previous single-day record for PLA flights into Taiwan’s ADIZ was in June, when 28 Chinese military planes entered.
The incursions on Friday came as Beijing celebrates 72 years since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.
“This is how the PLA chooses to celebrate its National Day – military coercion,” Drew Thompson, a former US Defense Department official and a visiting senior research fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, posted on Twitter.
“PLAAF sorties are pretty routine at this point, but stepping up bomber flights on a major PRC (People’s Republic of China) holiday underscores that this is political warfare and part of a massive coercion campaign,” Thompson told CNN.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has refused to rule out military force to capture Taiwan if necessary.
In the past, analysts have said the PLA’s flights likely serve several purposes for China, both demonstrating the strength of the PLA to a domestic audience and giving the Chinese military intelligence and skills it would need in any potential conflict involving Taiwan.
“Xi Jinping has instructed the PLA to heighten its readiness and prepare for warfighting under ‘realistic fighting conditions.’ Hence, it is relatively unsurprising that the PLA continues to fly into Taiwan’s ADIZ as part of realistic training and preparation for armed conflict,” Derek Grossman, a senior defense analyst at the RAND Corporation policy think tank, told CNN on Saturday.
Taiwan and mainland China have been governed separately since the end of a civil war more than seven decades ago, in which the defeated Nationalists fled to Taipei.
However, Beijing views Taiwan as an inseparable part of its territory – even though the Chinese Communist Party has never governed the democratic island of about 24 million people.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs reiterated that point last week after Beijing sent a total of 24 warplanes into the island’s ADIZ in a single day.
“Taiwan is Taiwan, and it is not part of the People’s Republic of China. The People’s Republic of China has never ruled Taiwan for a single day,” a statement from Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
This past Thursday, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office issued a statement and criticized Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu for “frantically making Taiwan independence speeches” on the international stage.
“Taiwan is an inalienable part of Chinese territory and has never been a country,” the statement said. “We are telling Joseph Wu and his likes that unification is the right way and ‘Taiwan independence’ is a dead end.”
“Following the trend of national rejuvenation and unification, various ‘Taiwan independence’ forces are like grasshoppers after autumn. All types of ‘Taiwan independence’ speeches are nothing but flies ‘buzzing around’,” it said.
In response, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council fired back and accused Beijing of using “extremely despicable language” to slander and abuse its foreign minister.
And on Saturday, Wu himself responded on Twitter.
“Oct. 1 wasn’t a good day. The #PLAAF flew 38 warplanes into #Taiwan’s ADIZ, making it the largest number of daily sorties on record. Threatening? Of course. It’s strange the #PRC doesn’t bother faking excuses anymore,” Wu tweeted on Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry account.
Despite the increase in PLA flights and the harsh rhetoric from Taiwan, Grossman, the RAND analyst, doesn’t think combat is imminent.
“I don’t think there is a high or even medium probability of a Chinese attack or invasion of Taiwan,” he told CNN.
“The PLA still has many vulnerabilities, especially when faced with the near-certain intervention of the United States with possibly – probably? – Japanese and Australian support,” he added. “China understands the severe downsides of a failed attack or invasion of Taiwan and will probably continue to bide its time.”