Two Chinese J-11 fighter planes that crossed into the Taiwan Airspace this week. Planes crossed 43 nautical miles over a median line south of the Taiwan Strait Sunday morning until the Taiwanese air force pressured them to leave, the Ministry of National Defense in Taipei said.
The incident quickly touched off a round of venting by Taiwanese government officials against China and sparked a rebuke against Beijing in Washington.
Although the planes stayed in Taiwan’s airspace for 12 minutes, longer than usual, they have crossed the median line before at least since 1999, defense experts believe. Some cases are accidental and the Chinese aircraft leave without incident.
According to MND spokesman Chen Chung-chi, The Taiwan Air Force jets intercepted two J-11 fighter planes from the People’s Liberation Army of China when they crossed the median line,
The Chinese fighter planes entered Taiwan’s southwestern airspace at 11 a.m. and retreated to the west side of the median line after they were issued a radio warning, according to a statement issued by the MND.
According to local media, the incident triggered a 10-minute standoff between Taiwan and China warplanes.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said on its Twitter that the Chinese warplanes made “intentional, reckless and provocative action” and violated a long-held tacit agreement by crossing the median line.
“We’ve informed regional partners and condemn China for such behavior,” MOFA said.
TAIWAN President Tsai Ing-wen has ordered a “forceful expulsion” of the Chinese jets if they cross the “median line” separating the island from the mainland.
In a Facebook post from Monday Tsai is pictured on the telephone with the caption: “I have already ordered the military to stage a forceful expulsion in the first place against any provocation by incursion of the median line [into the Taiwanese side].”
Beijing “should stop behavior of this sort, which endangers regional peace, and not be an international troublemaker,” Huang Chung Yen, a spokesperson for the Taiwanese president, had said after the boundary line incursion on Mar. 31, 2019, according to Reuters. President Tsai had ordered the country’s military “to complete all tasks on war preparation,” he added.
This initial incident also followed reports that the United States was preparing to sell advanced F-16 Viper fighter jets to Taiwan, where Beijing has long said it draws a “red line,” and a significant increase in American naval patrols through the Taiwan Strait.
This follows months of increasingly aggressive Chinese aerial activity around Taiwan, which is clearly meant to demonstrate the capabilities of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) in any future cross-strait skirmish. In May 2018, PLAAF fighter jets and H-6 bombers had notably flown a route that effectively encircled the island, showing its ability to attack from virtually any direction, something that had not necessarily been the case in the past.
Now analysts expect to see more planes on Taiwan’s side of the line as pressure on Taiwan. China/Taiwan relations have soured since 2016, pushing Taiwan closer to its powerful, informal ally the United States and angering Beijing further.
“If there’s once, there’s second time and if a second time there’s a third. So I hope the Taiwan government, the Taiwan Ministry of National Defense, can be very resolute and determined,” said Michael Tsai, chairman of the Institute for Taiwan Defense and Strategic Studies in Taiwan.
About 160 kilometers wide at its narrowest point, the Taiwan Strait separates mainland China from the self-governed Taiwan.
The incident is rare as China has generally respected the agreement of airspace within the Taiwan strait.