China sent 25 warplanes and three warships toward Taiwan on Wednesday morning (March 1), the island's Defence Ministry said, as tensions remain high between Beijing and Taipei’s main backer Washington.
The Ministry said 19 of those planes crossed into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone while the ships were continuing to operate in the Taiwan Strait. It said Taiwan responded by scrambling fighters, dispatching ships and activating coastal missile defense systems to “closely monitor and respond.”
China stages such incursions on a near-daily basis, part of what are termed “gray zone" tactics, aimed at intimidation and wearing down Taiwan’s equipment, exhausting its personnel and degrading public morale. Those also include cyberwarfare and disinformation campaigns, along with a relentless drive to deprive Taiwan of diplomatic allies.
Taiwan has responded by upgrading its fleet of F-16 fighter jets and ordering 66 more of the planes from the U.S., while purchasing a range of other weaponry and extending its mandatory term of military service for all males from four months to one year.
Relations between Beijing and Washington, Taiwan’s primary ally and source of defensive weaponry, have spiralled over China’s actions toward the island, trade, technology and the South China Sea.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken cancelled a visit to Beijing last month after the U.S. shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the U.S. east coast, drawing furious protests from China.
China claims Taiwan as its own territory to be brought under its control by force if necessary, and has been rapidly expanding its military to meet that challenge should it arise.
In memos and testimony, top U.S. officers have called for heightened preparations, saying China sees a shrinking window for action and may move on Taiwan within a few years. China says it prefers peaceful unification between the sides, but the Taiwanese public overwhelmingly favours the current state of de-facto independence.
Wednesday's incursions were relatively modest by recent standards. During China's National Day weekend in 2021, Beijing dispatched 149 military aircraft southwest of Taiwan in strike group formations. In August, in response to a trip to Taiwan by then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, China staged war games surrounding the island simulating a blockade and fired missiles over it into the Pacific Ocean.
Along with ordering new hardware from the U.S., Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has been pushing for a revitalisation of the domestic defence industry, including producing conventionally powered submarines.