U.S. reaffirms Taiwan support after China sends warplanes

The Taiwanese Defense Ministry said China dispatched eight bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons and four fighter jets to its air defense zone southwest of the island on Saturday. The ministry said China sent another 16 military aircraft of various types to the same area on Sunday.

The ministry said Taiwan then fought fighters, sent radio warnings and “deployed anti-aircraft missile systems to monitor activities.”

There was no immediate Chinese comment on Sunday.

The overflights were part of a longstanding pattern of raids aimed at pressuring President Tsai Ing-wen’s government to give in to Beijing’s demand to recognize Taiwan as part of Chinese territory.

They follow the inauguration of President Joe Biden and highlight the island’s continued position on the plethora of disputes between the sides, including human rights, trade disputes and, most recently, questions about China’s initial response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Biden administration has shown little evidence of easing pressure on China on such issues, although this encourages a return to more civil dialogue.

The State Department’s statement on Saturday said Washington will continue to deepen ties with Taiwan and ensure its defense against Chinese threats while supporting peaceful resolution of problems between the sides.

As a further sign of Taiwan’s support, the island’s de facto ambassador to Washington, Hsiao Bi-khim, was an invited guest at Biden’s inauguration.

And in a final blow to China, the outgoing U.S. ambassador to the Trump administration tweeted that it was time for the world to oppose China’s efforts to exclude and isolate Taiwan, drawing sharp criticism from Beijing.

Ambassador Kelly Craft accompanied the tweet with a photo of herself at the United States General Assembly, where the island is banned. She was carrying a handbag with a stuffed Taiwanese bear, a gift from Taiwan’s representative in New York, Ambassador James Lee.

Taiwan and China split during the civil war in 1949, and China says it is determined to forcibly bring the island under its control if necessary. The US shifted diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, but has a legal obligation to ensure Taiwan can defend itself and that the self-governing Democratic Island in Washington has strong support from both parties.

Tsai has tried to bolster the island’s defenses by purchasing billions in US weapons, including upgraded F-16 fighter jets, armed drones, missile systems, and harpoon missiles that can hit ships as well as land targets. It has also stepped up support for Taiwan’s indigenous defense industry, including launching a program to build new submarines to counter China’s ever-increasing sea capabilities.

China’s growing threat comes from the fact that economic and political incentives bear little fruit and lead to war games being staged almost daily and warplanes and reconnaissance planes being sent to the island of 24 million people.

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