China flies record number of fighter jets towards Taiwan.

China flew 28 military aircraft into Taiwan’s air defence buffer zone on Tuesday in its largest such incursion so far, according to Taipei officials, a move that came as Beijing continues to express anger over warnings from western countries and their allies about its military pressure on the island.

The flights involved 20 fighter jets and four nuclear-capable bombers alongside anti-submarine warfare and early-warning aircraft, said the Taiwanese air force. Previously, the largest incursion had featured 25 Chinese military aircraft on a single day in April.

The operation came after the G7 group of developed economies issued a final communique on Sunday following its UK summit, in which it highlighted “the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait” and called for a peaceful resolution of issues between China and Taiwan.

The remarks – the first time a G7 communique has ever referred to Taiwan – were the latest in a string of warnings at international forums against rising tension in the Taiwan Strait. In April, US president Joe Biden and Japan’s prime minister Yoshihide Suga issued a joint statement that stressed the importance of peace in the region. The issue was also included in a joint Japanese-Australian statement this month.

The Taiwan tensions are one of a range of China-related issues over which western countries and their partners regularly express concern. Others include Beijing’s treatment of the country’s Uighur minority, its undermining of Hong Kong’s autonomy and its aggressive behaviour in the South and East China Seas. Nato leaders this week warned that China posed “systemic challenges” to the rules-based international order.

Beijing has reacted angrily. This week, it accused the G7 and Nato of “slandering” it.

China claims Taiwan as part of its territory and has threatened to attack it if Taipei refuses to submit to its control. Over the past year, Beijing has stepped up military pressure on its neighbour, with frequent flights by its air force into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ).

Political messaging

An ADIZ is not sovereign airspace but an area some countries demarcate to define where they consider unannounced approaches to their airspace a security risk and will respond, for example, by scrambling fighter jets.

Defence experts view China’s incursions into Taiwan’s air defence zone as a tool used by Beijing to signal its displeasure at international support for Taipei. The moves were “more about political messaging than about military operational significance”, Adm Lee Hsi-ming, former chief of the general staff of Taiwan’s armed forces, said earlier this year.

But the People’s Liberation Army Air Force has also used the flights to practise operations in an area that is strategically important in its competition with US forces and that would be significant in any conflict over Taiwan or the contested South China Sea.

According to a map published by Taiwan’s defence ministry alongside the air force statement on Tuesday, some of the fighters and bombers flew around the southern tip of the island out into the western Pacific, a route Chinese military aircraft have started to take only in recent months and that Taiwanese experts say they use to demonstrate their capabilities. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021

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