In an alarming development that marks a recent escalation, China’s military dispatched a fleet of 103 warplanes towards Taiwan within a span of 24 hours, a move the island’s Defence Ministry categorises as a new high. These aircraft were detected in the window between dawn on Sunday and the same time on Monday, adhering to standard protocol by turning back before reaching Taiwan. While Chinese warplanes frequently hover over the self-governing island, the size of the fleet significantly exceeds the norm. No definitive timeline was provided for the reference to a ‘recent’ high.
China, which stakes claim to Taiwan as a part of its territory, has escalated its military activities in the air and surrounding waters of Taiwan. This intensity parallels burgeoning tensions between the two territories and the United States, Taiwan’s principal armament supplier and a staunch opponent to any forceful change in Taiwan’s status.
In a textbook example of China’s ‘carrot and stick’ approach, the government has expressed a preference for Taiwan to voluntarily assimilate. Recently, it publicly announced a plan to set up an integrated development demonstration zone in Fujian province. The goal is to charm the Taiwanese population, even as it looms large with military threats.
Analysts suggest that these alarming manoeuvres may be an effort to influence Taiwan’s imminent presidential election scheduled for January. The Democratic Progressive Party, ruling currently and known for its pro-independence leanings, is deeply at odds with China’s leadership. China’s favour lies with opposition candidates who endorse collaboration with the mainland. The presidential candidates, however, remained silent on Monday’s military activities.
Taiwan’s Defence Ministry probed further into the incident, revealing that 40 aircraft encroached the symbolic mid-way point between mainland China and the island. The fleet consisted of over 30 fighter jets along with mid-air refuelling tanker planes. In the same 24-hour period, Taiwanese authorities also reported the presence of nine Chinese naval vessels in surrounding waters.
Decisively labelling these activities as ‘harassment,’ the Ministry cautioned that such actions could trigger an escalation in the highly charged atmosphere and urged Beijing to cease their destructive military activities. This appeal came after China recently sent a naval flotilla, including the aircraft carrier Shandong, into waters proximate to Taiwan. This move followed swiftly on the heels of the U.S. and Canada sailing warships through the Taiwan Strait that separates the island from the mainland.
Chronicling the history of the strained relations, Taiwan and China underwent a division in 1949 when communists assumed control over China following a civil war. The ousted Nationalists retreated to Taiwan, setting up their independent government on the island. Presently, only a handful of foreign nations accord official diplomatic recognition to Taiwan as a self-governing island. Meanwhile, the U.S joins others in maintaining official relations with China, while keeping a representative office open in Taiwan.