China’s military stepped up its provocative military operations around Taiwan over the weekend, flying over 100 military aircraft near the island democracy it has vowed one day to take over.
A total of 103 jets were detected on Sunday and 40 of the planes crossed the median line down the middle of the 100-mile-wide Taiwan Strait, the Taiwan Defense Ministry disclosed in a post on X, the site formerly known as Twitter. Nine PLA navy vessels also were spotted, the ministry said.
The Chinese warplanes included 10 Su-30s, 12 J-10s, four J-11s, 10 J-16s, two Y-20 refueling tankers and two KJ-500 warning and control jets.
The latest demonstration followed major PLA war games around Taiwan from Sept. 11-15 that included 20 warships, among them the aircraft carrier Shandong and two other action groups of destroyers and frigates. Taipei said that in response Taiwanese jets were scrambled, naval vessels deployed, and land-based missile systems activated.
The observance of the unofficial maritime dividing line between Taiwan and the Chinese mainland had until recently been a key tool in maintaining a fragile status quo. Analysts say the median-line crossings are the latest indication China is challenging the status quo despite repeated U.S. and Taiwanese complaints.
The weekend’s sorties appear to be part of a pressure campaign by China to enforce Beijing’s expansive maritime claims in the region, claims rejected by the U.S. and smaller countries across East Asia.
Chinese vessels recently fired a water cannon at a Philippines ship seeking to resupply a grounded naval vessel in the Spratly Islands being used as a military base.
Japan’s government also protested the deployment of an oceanographic buoy by China inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone near the Senkaku Islands, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported Monday. The buoys are being used to collect data that could be useful for directing Coast Guard vessels, and tracking such factors as wave size and current, the newspaper said, quoting government sources.
China and Japan have long clashed over who owns the uninhabited islands.
The warplane flights Sunday near Taiwan were described in Chinese state media as “record-breaking,” and coincided with a major war game exercise around the island that included 20 PLA naval vessels.
The large-scale warplane and naval activity also appeared timed to coincide with meetings between White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. Taiwan was a major topic of the talks, a senior Biden administration official told reporters Sunday.
The two days of secret meetings that ended Sunday were held on the Mediterranean island nation of Malta. Mr. Wang then flew on to Moscow for talks with top Russian leaders.
The purpose of the Malta talks was to promote greater communication and maintain relations during times of tensions, the White House said in a statement.
“The two sides had candid, substantive, and constructive discussions,” the statement said, noting a reset effort launched during a November 2022 meeting between President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Bali, Indonesia. Taiwan and the war in Ukraine were among the key topics discussed.
Chinese state media said Mr. Wang told Mr. Sullivan that Taiwan is a “red line that must not be crossed.”
PLA spokesman Sr. Col. Senior Colonel Wu Qian on Aug. 31 defended earlier Chinese war games near Taiwan, saying they were designed to deter “separatist forces” inside Taiwan and ward off any thought of foreign intervention.
“We warn the [ Democratic Progressive Party] authorities not to hold back the tide with a broom. Otherwise, they will walk into a blind alley,” Col. Wu said, referring to the pro-independence political party now in power in Taipei.
The Chinese Communist Party-affiliated newspaper Global Times said the unannounced dispatch of over 100 aircraft in a single day indicated “a large-scale operational level campaign.”
Fu Qianshao, a retired PLA Air Force officer, told the paper that the large number of forces around Taiwan is a sign that combat-oriented exercises reached a new level and “can be turned into real action at any time if necessary.”
Retired Navy Capt. Carl. O. Schuster said Beijing is expanding the size and number of air and naval activities around Taiwan, significantly east and southeast of the island, in a campaign of intimidation meant to deter any U.S. attempt to intervene in a conflict, he said.
The Chinese are also signaling that U.S. arms sales will never give Taiwan enough firepower to stop Beijing should the Chinese attempt a military assault, said Capt. Schuster, a former director of operations at the Pacific Command’s joint intelligence center. PLA units are also getting training by rehearsing the type of military operations needed for a potential conflict.