Taiwan’s defence ministry has called on China to stop its “military harassment” of the self-ruled island after detecting more than 100 Chinese military aircraft in the latest of a series of military manoeuvres designed to assert Beijing’s claim to sovereignty.
The ministry said that since Sunday, it has spotted 103 Chinese military aircraft, including fighter jets, over the sea, a number it called a “recent high”. It also said it detected nine navy ships.
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Its map of Chinese activities over the past 24 hours showed 40 of the planes crossing the median line of the Taiwan Strait, which had served as an unofficial barrier between the two sides until China began regularly crossing it a year ago.
Other aircraft flew south of Taiwan through the Bashi Channel, which separates the island from the Philippines.
Beijing claims democratically governed Taiwan as its own territory and has not ruled out the use of force to achieve its goal.
China’s activities over the past day posed “serious challenges” to security in the strait and regionally, the ministry said in an accompanying statement.
Peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait are the common responsibilities of all parties in the region, it added.
“The continuous military harassment by the Communist military can easily lead to a sharp increase in tensions and worsen regional security,” the ministry said as it called on China to “immediately stop such destructive unilateral actions”.
Tony Hu, a former senior director for China, Taiwan and Mongolia at the United States defence department, said as the Chinese activities were in international airspace, they were not illegal under international law, but had the “intent to scare Taiwan and try to flex their muscle”.
He said while Beijing might be hoping for a response from Taiwan, that was unlikely to happen.
“Taiwan is keeping track on their warning radar and making sure the air defence missile system are prepared just in case they [China] make the wrong turn and initiate any kind of attack. And that’s sufficient,” Hu told Al Jazeera. “Taiwan does not go up and match them every time. They do go up there periodically, just to say, ‘Hey, I’m here watching you’.”
In addition to the weekend’s operations by the air force, Taiwan last week detected exercises involving the Chinese navy and its Shandong aircraft carrier in the western Pacific.
Japan’s defence ministry also said its navy had detected six Chinese ships – including frigates, destroyers, one fast combat support ship and the Shandong – sailing through waters some 650km (400 miles) south of Miyakojima Island, which lies east of Taiwan.
It also confirmed that jets and helicopters had been detected taking off and landing from the Shandong.
A regional security official, who declined to be named because of the sensitivities, told the Reuters news agency the navy manoeuvres were the “largest in years” and had added to pressures across the region.
Taiwan’s defence ministry noted last week that July to September is traditionally the busiest season for Chinese military drills along the coast.
China has not commented officially on any recent drills being conducted in the area.
In April, Beijing staged military exercises to simulate the encirclement of the island after Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen met US House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California. It also held large-scale drills after McCarthy’s predecessor Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August 2022.
With reporting by Erin Hale in Taipei