Taiwan on Thursday accused China of “bullying” after Beijing sent a total of 24 warplanes into its air defense identification zone (ADIZ), the third-largest incursion in the past two years of heightened tensions between Beijing and Taipei.
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) aircraft, including bombers, fighter jets, anti-submarine planes and airborne early warning and control planes, entered Taiwan’s ADIZ in two groups – one of 19 planes and a second cohort of five jets that came later in the day.
A map released by Taiwan’s Defense Ministry showed some Chinese aircraft, including H-6 bombers, flying around the southern part of Taiwan, and angling up to the island’s east.
In response, the ministry said radio warnings were issued and air defense missile systems were deployed to monitor the activity.
The incursions did not violate Taiwan’s sovereign airspace, which extends 12 nautical miles from its coast. The US Federal Aviation Administration defines an ADIZ as “a designated area of airspace over land or water within which a country requires the immediate and positive identification, location and air traffic control of aircraft in the interest of the country’s national security.”
The air incursions came a day after Taiwan officially submitted an application to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) free-trade pact.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs signaled its strong opposition to Taiwan’s application.
“We firmly oppose official exchanges between any country and the Taiwan region, and firmly oppose Taiwan’s accession to any agreement or organization of an official nature,” ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said.
Taiwan and mainland China have been governed separately since the end of a civil war more than seven decades ago, in which the defeated Nationalists fled to Taipei.
However, Beijing views Taiwan as an inseparable part of its territory – even though the Chinese Communist Party has never governed the democratic island of about 24 million people.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs reiterated that point on Thursday evening after the PLA warplane flights.
“Taiwan is Taiwan, and it is not part of the People’s Republic of China. The People’s Republic of China has never ruled Taiwan for a single day,” a statement from Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
The island should be able to make its own choices when it comes to matters such as joining an international trade agreement, the ministry added.
“The Chinese government only wants to bully Taiwan in the international community and is the culprit for heightened tensions in cross-strait relations,” the statement said.
Beijing claims the opposite, as Taipei has increased military purchases from the United States and received indications of support from US allies like Japan.
When Tokyo released its annual defense white paper in July, it contained its strongest language ever on Taiwan, saying “stabilizing the situation surrounding Taiwan is important for Japan’s security.”
The highest number of daily air incursions reported by Taiwan was on June 15, when 28 Chinese military planes flew into Taiwan’s ADIZ. On April 12, 25 PLA planes entered Taiwan’s ADIZ in a single day.
But some sort of PLA incursion into Taiwan’s ADIZ has become an almost daily occurrence.
For instance, before Thursday’s flights, there were two incursions on Wednesday, one on Monday, four on Sunday and 10 last Friday, according to Taiwan’s Defense Ministry.
Analysts have said the PLA’s flights likely serve several purposes for China, both demonstrating the strength of the PLA to a domestic audience, while giving the Chinese military intelligence and skills it would need in any potential conflict involving Taiwan.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has refused to rule out military force to capture Taiwan if necessary.
CNN’s Will Ripley and Hannah Ritchie contributed to this report.