Taiwan reports China's largest incursion yet to air defence zone

Chinese and Taiwanese flags are seen in this illustration, August 6, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

TAIPEI, Dec 26 (Reuters) - Seventy-one Chinese air force aircraft including fighter jets and drones entered Taiwan's air defence identification zone in the past 24 hours, the island's government said on Monday, the largest reported incursion to date.

Of the aircraft, 43 also crossed the Taiwan Strait's median line, an unofficial buffer between the two sides that lies within the defence zone, Taiwan's Defence Ministry said in a report, as Beijing continues military activities close to the Chinese-claimed island.

The White House said the United States was concerned by China's military activity near Taiwan, which it called "provocative" and "destabilising," adding that it risked miscalculations and undermined regional stability.

Taiwan's official Central News Agency said it was the largest Chinese air force incursion to date, although there was no sense of alarm on the island, which has witnessed a steady increase in Chinese pressure in recent years.

China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory, said it had conducted "strike drills" in the sea and airspace around Taiwan on Sunday in response to what it said was provocation from the democratically governed island and the United States.

Taiwan, which strongly rejects China's sovereignty claims, said the drills showed Beijing was destroying regional peace and trying to intimidate Taiwan's people.

A senior Taiwan official familiar with security planning in the region told Reuters that Taiwan assessed China had staged the military "provocation" to express anger at a new U.S. defence authorisation law that boosts military assistance for Taiwan.

The person, who declined to be identified as the information was not made public, said during the drills China's air force dispatched warplanes from several locations across the country to carry out simulated attacks on Taiwanese and U.S. warships.

China's Taiwan Affairs Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The office of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said Tsai will call a high-level national security meeting on Tuesday morning to discuss reinforcing the island's civil defence system, followed by a press conference on new civil defence measures.

The statement gave no details, but the defence ministry has said it was considering extending compulsory military service beyond four months, as the war in Ukraine and rising tensions with Beijing renewed discussion about how to respond to Chinese military pressure.

"The more preparations we make, the less likely there will be rash attempts of aggression. The more united we are, the stronger and safer Taiwan would become," Tsai told a military ceremony on Monday.

"We (U.S.) will continue to assist Taiwan in maintaining a sufficient self-defense capability in line with our long-standing commitments and consistent with our one China policy," the White House National Security Council said on Monday.

During the latest incursion, several Chinese planes, mostly fighter jets, briefly crossed the median line in the sensitive Taiwan Strait before returning to China, according to a map provided by Taiwan's defence ministry. Seven Chinese navy ships were also detected near Taiwan, the ministry said.

China's military also sent early warning, electronic-warfare and antisubmarine aircraft, as well as drones, into Taiwan's southern air defence identification zone, or ADIZ, according to the report, which detailed Chinese activities near Taiwan over the 24 hours to 6 a.m. (2200 GMT on Sunday).

Taipei has complained of repeated missions by the Chinese air force over the last two years, often in southern areas of its ADIZ.

Taiwan sent unspecified combat aircraft to warn away the Chinese planes, while missile systems monitored their flight, the ministry said, using standard wording for its response.

Taiwan's benchmark stock index (.TWII) brushed off the latest tensions, ending Monday up 0.1%. However, China's CSI Defence Index (.CSI399973) marked its best day in two months on Monday, rising 3.7%.

China has stepped up its diplomatic, military and economic pressure in recent years on the self-governed island to accept Beijing's rule. Taiwan's government says it wants peace but will defend itself if attacked.

Reporting by Yimou Lee; additional reporting by Idrees Ali and Kanishka Singh in Washington; Editing by Christopher Cushing, Edmund Klamann and Chizu Nomiyama

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