HONG KONG – Taiwan harshly criticized China on Saturday after dozens of military jets flew into its air defense zone in what was allegedly Beijing’s largest attack to date.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense said in a statement that 20 planes, all but two anti-submarine aircraft, flew near the Pratas Islands on Saturday.
That came less than 24 hours after the ministry announced that 38 Chinese fighter jets flew into its Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) on Friday. This type of airspace is defined by many countries on their territory as a means of monitoring air traffic, but is not recognized under international law.
The incursion on Friday surpassed the previous high of 28 Chinese military aircraft that flew in Taiwan’s air defense zone in June, the ministry said.
“China has deliberately participated in military attacks and damaged the peace in the region,” Taiwanese Prime Minister Su Tseng-chang told reporters on Saturday morning.
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The first wave of attacks on Friday included 18 J-16 and four Su-30 fighter jets, as well as two nuclear-capable H-6 bombers and one anti-submarine aircraft, Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense said in a statement.
The second consisted of 10 J-16s, 2 H-6s and an early warning aircraft, it said in a separate statement.
The first Chinese planes all flew in an area near the Pratas Islands, with the two bombers flying the closest to the atoll, according to a map issued by the ministry.
The second group flew down into the Bashi Canal, which separates Taiwan from the Philippines, a major waterway that connects the Pacific with the disputed South China Sea, a second map showed.
Both incursions occurred as Beijing celebrated the 72nd anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense said it had dispatched fighter jets to warn the Chinese planes while missile systems were deployed to monitor them.
China has not yet officially commented on either exercise, but the Global Times, a state newspaper and website, reported the incursion on Friday.
The escalation is taking place against the background of deteriorating relations with Beijing and its closer ties with Taipei.
China regards Taiwan as an illegitimate breakaway province that is part of Chinese territory. When in 1949 the civil war in China between communists and nationalists ended with the triumph of the former, the latter formed a rival government in Taipei.
The US has only officially recognized Beijing since the 1970s, but has since become Taiwan’s main arms supplier and international supporter.
Friday’s mission came shortly after Beijing criticized Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu, an outspoken supporter of the island’s democratic efforts to drive back China.
In a statement on Thursday, China’s Taiwan Affairs Bureau accused Wu of “frantically delivering Taiwan’s independence speeches” on the international stage.
After China’s military performance on Friday, Wu tweeted from the Taiwan Foreign Ministry’s account that it was “not a good day.”