China sent fighter jets and other military aircraft near Taiwan on Friday in the latest of a series of drills which Beijing has said are aimed at the island’s “independence forces”.
Taiwan’s defence ministry said multiple H-6K bombers, reconnaissance planes and transport aircraft flew over the Bashi Channel, south of Taiwan, and over the Miyako Strait, near Japan’s Okinawa Island, in a drill on Friday.
It was the first time that China’s Su-35 fighters were sent over the Bashi Channel, the ministry said, while J-11 fighters and early warning aircraft also took part.
The ministry assured the public in a statement that it was able to fully monitor Chinese naval and air drills and “take effective responsive measures to ensure defence security”.
China sees democratically governed Taiwan — which has never formally declared independence from the mainland — as a renegade part of its territory to be brought back into the fold, and has not ruled out reunification by force.
The Chinese defence ministry confirmed in a statement Friday that it was the first time Su-35s flew over the Bashi Channel, hailing it as a “new breakthrough, highlighting the new enhancements to the Air Force’s combat capability”.
Beijing has stepped up military patrols around Taiwan and used diplomatic pressure to isolate it internationally since President Tsai Ing-wen, of the traditionally pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, took office in 2016.
Last month, China’s air force said the series of operations were meant to “strengthen its capacity to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity”. Defence ministry spokesman Wu Qian told a monthly press conference that they were “directed against Taiwan independence forces and activities in the island”.
Taiwan has accused Beijing of “sabre rattling” and trying to stoke regional tensions with its recent spate of drills.
Taipei has announced that it will practise thwarting a Chinese “invasion” in annual live fire drills in June by simulating surprise coastal assaults.