Several Chinese fighter jets, bombers and spy aircrafts were said to be in "island encirclement patrols" near Taiwanese airspace on Monday (11 December) in what has been described as routine and scheduled drill in the region. The patrols took place after a top Chinese diplomat dropped a warning that Beijing would not hesitate to use force against Taiwan if US warships made port calls in the quasi-sovereign state.
Beijing's military said the patrols near Taiwan were "planned" in advance in order to protect the sovereignty of Chinese territories. Air Force spokesman Shen Jinke wrote on the military's microblog that the sea patrols are to "test real combat capabilities" of the forces.
Aircrafts such as H-6K bombers, Su-30 and J-11 fighter jets, and surveillance jets were all part of the aerial mission in which the jets flew over the Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the Philippines.
Taipei authorities said they are aware of the movements of Chinese jets in the region and added the military exercise does not pose a threat to Taiwan.
"There were no special developments related to the drill, and most of the planes later directly returned to where they came from while one group led by the Y-8 continued south into the Bashi Channel south of Taiwan before returning to China," said the Taiwanese defence ministry.
Taiwan Defence Minister Feng Shih-kuan said the country has dispatched ships and aircrafts to keep a close watch on the Chinese activities in the region. He emphasised Taiwan need not be alarmed as the drills are not unprecedented. China has been carrying out many such aerial missions – which some experts suspect are used to collect data on Taiwan's air defences – since August but Taipei has downplayed the significance of these missions.
Taiwan remains a thorny issue for China, and Beijing often bills it as the most sensitive matter when it comes to the relations with the US.
The latest news about the patrols emerges in the wake of a threat from senior Chinese diplomat Li Kexin, who warned China would invade Taiwan if the US sent naval warships to its port. "The day that a US Navy vessel arrives in Kaohsiung is the day that our People's Liberation Army unifies Taiwan with military force," Li warned during Chinese embassy event in Washington.
Enraged by the comments from the Chinese envoy, the Taiwanese side shot back saying Beijing's communist party does not understand the language of democracy. "These methods show a lack of knowledge about the real meaning of the democratic system and how a democratic society works," said Taiwan's foreign ministry.
Tensions have escalated under Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan's first female president, ever since she took charge in 2016 championing strong nationalist sentiments. Beijing suspects Tsai is seeking full-fledged independence for Taiwan.