TAIPEI— Taiwan scrambled fighter jets, put its navy on alert, and activated missile systems in response to nearby operations of 34 Chinese military aircraft and nine warships that are part of Beijing’s strategy to unsettle and intimidate the self-governing island.
The large-scale Chinese deployment comes as Beijing increases preparations for a potential blockade or outright attack on Taiwan that has stirred major concerns among military leaders in the United States, the East Asian island democracy’s key ally.
In a memo last month, US Air Force Gen. Mike Minihan instructed officers to be prepared for a US-China conflict over Taiwan in 2025. As head of Air Mobility Command, Minihan has a keen understanding of the Chinese military and his personal remarks echo calls in the US for heightened preparations.
Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said 20 Chinese aircraft on Tuesday crossed the central line in the Taiwan Strait that has long been an unofficial buffer zone between the sides, which split amid civil war in 1949.
China claims the island as its own territory to be taken by force, while the vast majority of Taiwanese are opposed to coming under the control of China’s authoritarian Communist Party.
Taiwan’s armed forces “monitored the situation… to respond to these activities,” the Defense Ministry said on Wednesday.
China has sent warships, bombers, fighter jets and support aircraft into airspace near Taiwan nearly daily, hoping to wear down the island’s limited defense resources and undercut support for pro-independence leader Tsai Ing-wen.
Chinese fighter jets have also confronted military aircraft from the US and allied nations over international airspace in the South China and East China seas, in what Beijing has described as dangerous and threatening maneuvers.
A string of visits to Taiwan by foreign politicians in recent months, including by then-US House speaker Nancy Pelosi and numerous politicians from the European Union, spurred displays of military might from both sides.
In response to Pelosi’s visit in early August, China staged war games surrounding the island and fired missiles over it into the Pacific Ocean.
China has repeatedly threatened retaliation against countries seeking closer ties with Taiwan, but its attempts at intimidation have sparked a backlash in popular sentiment in Europe, Japan, the US and other nations.
Taiwan is set to hold presidential elections next year, in contrast to China’s system of total control by president and Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping, who has removed term limits to effectively make him a leader for life. China’s efforts to reach out to Taiwan’s pro-unification Nationalist Party have largely backfired.
Although the Nationalists performed well in local elections last year, the party’s pro-Beijing policies have failed to find resonance among voters on a national level.
Taiwan has responded to China’s threats by ordering more defensive weaponry from the US, leveraging its democracy and high-tech economy to strengthen foreign relations and revitalizing its domestic arms industry.
Compulsory military service for men is being extended from four months to one year and public opinion surveys show high levels of support for increased defense spending to counter China’s threats.
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