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Taiwan reports increase in Chinese aircraft in defense zone

TAIPEI: Taiwan on Monday reported the largest incursion ever by China’s air force into its air defense zone with 52 aircraft, and said the Taiwanese air force had to fight for the fourth day in a row to warn intruders as tensions soared.
China’s claimed Taiwan has complained for a year or more of repeated missions by the Chinese air force near the democratically ruled island, often in the southwestern part of its air defense zone near the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands.
But since Friday, when China marked its national day, the country has embarked on a massive increase in its missions, with nearly 150 planes flying into the defense zone in the space of four days.
The latest mission included 34 J-16 fighters and 12 nuclear-capable H-6 bombers, all of which flew in an area near the Pratas Islands, according to a map provided by the ministry.
Taiwanese fighter jets rushed to warn Chinese jets, while missile systems were deployed to monitor them, he added.
The United States on Sunday urged China to halt its “provocative” military activities near Taiwan, while the island government has also condemned Beijing.
China has yet to comment. Calls to the Chinese Defense Ministry on Monday went unanswered. The country is in the middle of the week-long National Day holiday.
Taiwan has called China’s activities a “gray zone” war, designed to wear down Taiwanese forces and test their skills.
A Taiwan-based source familiar with security issues in the region told Reuters on Monday that Chinese planes were possibly conducting simulated strikes against fleets of US aircraft carriers, drills that China has repeatedly conducted near Taiwan in recent months.
‘Intimidation’
The US Navy referred the questions to the Pentagon, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan entered the South China Sea late last month. On Monday, Japan’s Defense Ministry said the ship, along with another aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, had conducted joint multinational exercises in waters southwest of Okinawa, although it did not give an exact location.
Okinawa is home to a major American military base and is located just northeast of Taiwan.
The start of China’s activities could also be deliberately timed as “intimidation” before Japan introduced a cabinet under new Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, the source added. Kishida unveiled his cabinet early Monday.
A Japanese Defense Ministry official declined to comment.
“Although we closely watch the events between China and Taiwan, we do not comment on each of them,” the official told Reuters.
China has previously said that such flights were to protect its sovereignty and targeted “collusion” between Taiwan and the United States, the island’s largest international arms sponsor and supplier.
China has stepped up military and political pressure to try to force Taiwan to accept Chinese sovereignty.
Taiwan says it is an independent country and will defend its freedom and democracy.
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