China's military sent 28 aircraft into the southwestern corner of Taiwan's Air Defense Identification Zone, or ADIZ, earlier today. This is the largest group of People's Liberation Army warplanes to fly through that region since the Chinese began conducting these kinds of sorties on a near-daily basis in 2020. This show of force comes just a day after authorities in Beijing slammed a statement from the G7 group of industrialized nations, which includes the United States, that had called for, in part, a "peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues."
In a statement, Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense (MND) announced the incursions, which took place on June 15, 2021, and said that the amassed Chinese aircraft included 14 J-16 and 6 J-11 fighter jets, both derivatives of the Soviet-design Flanker, as well as four H-6 bombers, two KJ-500 airborne early warning and control aircraft, one electronic warfare variant of the Y-8 series, and another Y-8 type in an anti-submarine warfare configuration. This is eight more aircraft than the People's Liberation Army (PLA) had sent into this sector of the Taiwanese ADIZ on March 26, which had previously been the most Chinese warplanes sent into the region in a single day since these flights became a routine occurrence last year.
Taiwanese officials said that their responses to the PLA sorties included the scrambling of combat aircraft, the employment of air defense assets to further monitor the situation, and the issuing of warning messages to the Chinese aircraft via radio. This is the standard operating procedure in response to People's Liberation Army (PLA) missions that enter the ADIZ.
As has happened in the past, the fighter jets and bombers, as well as the electronic warfare Y-8, took routes that hooked around the eastern side of Taiwan. This underscores the PLA's now increasingly well-established ability to launch aerial attacks on Taiwanese targets from multiple vectors simultaneously, presenting complications for defending forces on the island.
In general, the appearance of more than two dozen Chinese military aircraft south of Taiwan reflects a steady escalation of tensions between authorities in Beijing and Taipei in recent years, with the former routinely issuing overt threats to use military force should officials on the island declare total independence from the mainland. The Chinese government views Taiwan as a rogue province and integral to its national territory.
These latest sorties, however, follown outrage on the part of the Chinese government at a joint statement that leaders of the G7 nations issued on June 13 at the close of their latest meeting in Carbis Bay in Cornwall in the United Kingdom. In addition to the United States, the G7 includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom.
Among other things, the G7 statement called for the Chinese government to be more transparent about the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic and its global economic activities, as well as for it to show respect for human rights, particularly in Xinjiang, where it is pursuing genocidal policies against the Uighur ethnic minority, and in Hong Kong, which remains in the grips of a massive crackdown on pro-democracy politicians and activities. The joint communique also raised concerns about widely disputed Chinese territorial claims in the East China Sea and the South China Sea.
"We reiterate the importance of maintaining a free and open Indo Pacific, which is inclusive and based on the rule of law," the statement added. "We underscore the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and encourage the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues."
Taiwanese officials welcomed the declarations from the G7 members, promising to be a "force for good" as the island's government pursues greater direct engagement with the international community. Taiwan's current President Tsai Ing Wen started her third term last year and pledged to pursue greater decoupling from the mainland, drawing the ire of Beijing, which has already previously described her as an "independence extremist."
The Chinese Embassy in London itself responded with a harsh critique of the G7 communique. It said that its contents, as it applied to China, reflected the "sinister intentions of a few countries such as the United States."
"China's internal affairs must not be interfered in, China's reputation must not be slandered, and China's interests must not be violated," it added. "We will resolutely defend our national sovereignty, security, and development interests, and resolutely fight back against all kinds of injustices and infringements imposed on China."
It is important to note that the United States presently recognizes the government in Beijing as the sole legitimate authority in China. However, Washington reserves the right to engage directly with authorities in Taipei, including on military affairs, to include training exercises with Taiwanese forces and arms sales to the island's military, until the final status of Taiwan is formally settled.
In April, former Senator Chris Dodd and former Deputy Secretaries of State Richard Armitage and James Steinberg went to Taiwan at the request of President Joe Biden to send a “personal signal” about his administration's commitment to the island, according to a White House official. Earlier this month, a Congressional delegation traveled there aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft in another clear demonstration of America's support for the government in Taipei.
All told, it is hard not to see the latest Chinese aerial armada flying in the southwestern portion of Taiwan's ADIZ as a tit-for-tat response, at least in part, to these American signals of support. This all also comes amid simmering concerns about the potential for a new cross-straight crisis, potentially one that involves some level of actual military conflict, in the near future. The PLA's significant and still growing airpower capabilities, as demonstrated in the cross-strait sorties earlier today, together with its expanding naval prowess, would be significant factors in any such engagements.
These new sorties, coupled with the response to the G7's statement, make clear that the Chinese government, at least in the near term, has no plans to back down in regards to Taiwan, among other issues causing tension between it and the international community. How authorities in Taiwan or the United States will now respond to this new escalation remains to be seen.
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