Fighters. Bombers. Flying missiles. China has sent more than 20 aircraft to breach its borders with Taiwan in recent days. Now Taiwan’s President warns of a “clear and present danger” to the whole region.
Late last week a US official visited Taiwan to attend the funeral of a past president and hold talks with its democratically elected administration.
Beijing responded by sending combat jets across the ‘median line’ – the halfway point between the island of Taiwan and mainland China.
Meanwhile, both of China’s aircraft carriers were also at sea taking part in an extensive series of live-fire exercises to the north and south of Taiwan.
“Every time a high-ranking US official visits Taiwan, the fighter jets of the PLA should be one step closer to the island,” warns an editorial in the Chinese Communist Party newspaper Global Times.
“The US and Taiwan must not misjudge the situation, or believe the exercise is a bluff. Should they continue to make provocations, war will inevitably break out.”
Another Global Times editorial declared the drills were “realistically combat-oriented and a rehearsal for a Taiwan takeover”.
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“Twelve J-16 fighters, two J-10 fighters, two J-11 fighters, two H-6 bombers and one Y-8 ASW crossed the midline of the Taiwan Strait and entered Taiwan’s southwest ADIZ (identification zone),” Taiwan’s defence ministry tweeted Saturday.
In response, Taiwan “scrambled fighters and deployed air defence missile systems to monitor the activities”
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This was just the second day of a series of repeated violations by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
And there are disturbing indications this is just the start of further escalations.
Yesterday, the PLA declared on Chinese media that “there is no such thing as Taiwan Strait median line within PR China’s territory.”
This unravels seven decades of unsteady truce between the two nations.
Chinese state propaganda has been broadcasting the event, with its social media Wolf Warriors on message. One Twitter account, Eva Zheng (who declares herself to be an independent Chinese citizen, even though some Chinese citizens have been arrested for merely posting to Twitter) uploaded a government graphic detailing the incursions.
Others, such as the Chinese ambassador to ASEAN, declared: “Taiwan is an inseparable part of China and we won’t allow any foreign power to interfere with China’s internal affairs. Those who play with fire will get burned!”
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PLA Air Force Senior Colonel Zhang Chunhui said in a statement that the military manoeuvres were “necessary” to counter Taiwanese “separatist” acts. “Such actions are necessary measures to deal with the current situation in the Taiwan Strait, and will help improve the ability of theater troops to defend national unity and territorial sovereignty.”
Meanwhile, Taipei is attempting to capitalise upon Beijing belligerence by warning South East Asian nations that China has revealed its true nature.
“I believe these activities are no help to China’s international image, and what’s more have put Taiwan’s people even more on their guard, understanding even better the true nature of the Chinese Communist regime,” President Tsai Ing-wen said on Sunday.
“Additionally, other countries in the region also have a better understanding of the threat posed by China”.
US undersecretary for state Keith Krach was visiting Taiwan to mark the passing of former President Lee Ten-hui. It was he who led the island of 20 million people into democracy. The dictatorial Republic of China (ROC) administration had fled to the protectorate – placed under Chinese administration after World War II – after the Communist Party seized control of the mainland in 1949.
Both events were particularly irritating to Beijing’s Chairman-for-life Xi Jinping, who has recently been pushing a hard “reunification” line – even though Taiwan never surrendered to the Communist revolution. This was a point emphasised by Lee, who strove to establish Taiwan as its own independent identity on the world stage.
Serving President Tsai lauded Lee for succeeding in a peaceful transition from autocracy to democracy.
“We have a responsibility to continue his endeavours, allowing the will of the people to reshape Taiwan, further defining Taiwan’s identity and deepening and bolstering democracy and freedom,” Tsai said during the ceremony.
The US undersecretary is the second high-level official to visit Taipei in recent months. He dined with the President, while also meeting with the economic affairs minister and holding trade talks with business leaders.
“This kind of behaviour interferes with China’s internal affairs, hurts the feelings of the Chinese people and violates the norms of international relations,” China’s State Council spokesman Ma Xiaoguang said yesterday.
But the US adopted a different point of view.
“We have maintained constructive, unofficial relations with Taiwan for 40 years,” a Pentagon spokesman said in response to the air incursions. “The PLA’s aggressive and destabilising reactions reflect a continued attempt to alter the status quo and rewrite history.”
“This is another example of the PRC increasingly using its military as a tool of coercion with Taiwan and other neighbours. Taiwan’s security — and its people’s ability to determine their future, free from coercion — remains a vital interest to the United States and is integral to regional security.”
Jamie Seidel is a freelance writer | @JamieSeidel