TAIPEI, Taiwan — A record 38 Chinese military jets crossed into Taiwan’s defense zone as Beijing marked the founding of the People’s Republic of China, Taipei said on Saturday.
The show of force on China’s National Day on Friday near the self-ruled democratic island, which Beijing claims as part of its territory, came on the same week it accused Britain of sending a warship into the Taiwan Strait with “evil intentions.”
Taiwan’s defense ministry said that it scrambled its aircraft to broadcast warnings after 22 fighters, two bombers and one anti-submarine aircraft entered the island’s southwest Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) on Friday.
A second batch of 13 jets crossed into Taiwan’s ADIZ later on Friday, in a rare night incursion, bringing the total to a record 38, according to the ministry.
The ADIZ is not the same as Taiwan’s territorial airspace, but includes a far greater area that overlaps with part of China’s own air defense identification zone and even includes some of mainland China.
Democratic Taiwan’s 23 million people live under the constant threat of invasion by China, which views the island as its territory and has vowed to one day seize it, by force if necessary.
Under Chinese President Xi Jinping, Chinese warplanes are crossing into the ADIZ on a near-daily basis.
But Friday’s incursion sparked a particularly sharp rebuke from Taipei.
“China has been bellicose and damaging regional peace while engaging in many bullying acts,” Taiwanese Premier Su Tseng-chang told reporters on Saturday.
“It’s evident that the world, the international community, rejects such behaviors by China more and more.”
Mass incursions used to be rare.
But in the last two years, Beijing has begun sending large sorties into Taiwan’s ADIZ to signal dissatisfaction at key moments — and to keep Taipei’s aging fighter fleet regularly stressed.
Last week, 24 Chinese warplanes flew into the area, after Taiwan applied to join a major trans-Pacific trade pact.
Friday’s show of force came the same week Beijing accused Britain of “evil attentions” after it sent a frigate to sail through the Taiwan Strait.
China claims the strait as its own waterway, along with most of the disputed South China Sea. Most other nations view them as international waters open to all.
Beijing has ramped up pressure on Taipei since the 2016 election of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who views the island as “already independent.”
Last year, Chinese military jets made a record 380 incursions into Taiwan’s defense zone, and the number of breaches for the first nine months of this year has already exceeded 500.
The previous single-day record was on June 15, when 28 jets breached Taiwan’s ADIZ.
Xi has described Taiwan becoming part of the mainland as “inevitable.”
United States military officials have begun to talk openly about fears that China could consider the previously unthinkable and invade.
Protection of Taiwan has become a rare bipartisan issue in Washington and a growing number of Western nations have begun joining the US in “freedom of navigation” exercises to push back on China’s claims to the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait.
Britain sent a warship through the Taiwan Strait on Monday for the first time since 2008.
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theater Command accused Britain of acting out of “evil intentions to sabotage peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”
Alexander Huang, associate professor at Tamkang University in Taipei, said that he believed the latest aerial incursion was not just about sending a message to Taiwan.
“There’s three other carrier attack groups in the region, two American and one British,” he told AFP.
“China is sending a political message to the US and UK on her national day: Don’t mess around in my area.”
Canadian, French and Australian warships have all made voyages through the Taiwan Strait in recent years, sparking protests from China.