China flies 19 aircraft into Taiwan’s airspace

Nineteen Chinese aircraft have entered Taiwan’s airspace – ramping up tensions in the region in the wake of the AUKUS submarine pact.

Taipei said 14 fighters – including 12 J-16s and two J-11s – entered its air defence identification zone on Thursday morning.

Accompanying the fighters were two nuclear-capable H-6 bombers, one Y-8 plane equipped with ‘electronic warfare’ equipment, and two Y-8 anti-submarine planes, the country’s defence ministry said.

Fighter jets were scrambled to turn the aircraft back while radio warnings were also broadcast and missile defence systems activated to monitor the situation.

China frequently flies such missions, but they have taken on new significance in the wake of the AUKUS deal. 

Taiwan is a close ally of the US, meaning the UK and Australia could now be dragged into any future conflict with China because of the defence pact.

China has flown 19 aircraft into Taiwan’s air space, including 14 fighters and two nuclear-capable bombers in one of the largest sorties in months

Two nuclear-capable H-6 bombers took part in the sortie, flying south of Taiwan island before turning around and heading back to China (file image)

Flight tracking data published by Taiwan showed the J-16 and J-11 fighters flew a short distance into the ADIZ before turning back.

Meanwhile the bombers, electronic warfare aircraft and anti-submarine planes completed a circuit around the southern tip of Taiwan before turning back. 

The island’s government has complained for a year of repeated missions by China’s air force near its borders, often in the southwestern part of its air defense zone close to Taiwan-controlled Pratas Island. 

China has flown aircraft into Taiwan’s defence zone every day this month with the exception of September 2, defence ministry data shows.

Most missions only involve a handful of aircraft, making Thursday’s sortie exceptional for its size.

Only two comparable missions have taken place in recent months, with one on September 5 that included 19 aircraft and one on June 15 that included 28. 

Self-governing Taiwan, which is home to the Republic of China which fought against the Communist Party when it first emerged, views itself as an independent state but Beijing views it as a breakaway province.  

It has long-standing ties with the US, which historically recognised it as the legitimate government of China.

Tensions around the island have been mounting since President Xi Jinping vowed in 2019 to ‘reunify’ Taiwan with the Chinese mainland, using force if necessary. 

Twelve J-16 (pictured) and two J-11 fighters also took part in the mission, which was one of the largest to be flown in recent months

The standoff entered a new phase last week when Australia, the UK and US announced a new defence pact to share military technology that will include giving Australia its first fleet of nuclear submarines.

Beijing reacted angrily to the deal, denouncing the allies’ ‘Cold War mentality’ while warning it risks stability in the region and could make Australia the target of a nuclear strike.

Shortly after the alliance was announced, Australian defence minister Peter Dutton admitted that war with China is possible – with Taiwan likely to be the flashpoint.

The deal is about securing ‘peace’ in the region, Mr Dutton insisted, but added that the odds of a conflict with China ‘shouldn’t be discounted’. 

‘The Chinese.. are very clear of their intent with regard to Taiwan [and] the United States has been very clear of their intention toward Taiwan,’ he said. 

‘Nobody wants to see conflict but that really is a question for the Chinese.’

The incident came a day after Taiwan proposed extra defence spending of $9billion over the next five years, including on new missiles, warning of an urgent need to upgrade weapons in the face of a ‘severe threat’ from China.

Speaking earlier on Friday, Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang said the government had to take the threat from China seriously.

‘The Chinese Communists plot against us constantly,’ he said.

Taiwan’s defence spending ‘is based on safeguarding national sovereignty, national security, and national security. We must not relax. We must have the best preparations so that no war will occur’, he added.

China’s government, for its part, criticised Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu on Friday for comments this week in which he said Taiwan was a ‘sea fortress’ blocking China’s expansion into the Pacific.

Wu’s ‘aim is to deceive public opinion, to rope in and collude with anti-China foreign forces’, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said in statement.

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