A FLEET of Chinese warplanes carried out “island encirclement” patrols over Taiwan in a highly provocative move that may infuriate US President Donald Trump.
A team of Chinese bombers, fighter jets and other military aircraft surrounded the island during a series of war drills in the Western Pacific on Monday.
The war planes encircled the island, a territory of the Republic of China, to “strengthen combat capabilities on the high seas”, the People’s Liberation Army said.
Long-range strategic H-6K bombers, Su-30 and J-11 fighter jets, and surveillance, early-warning and refuelling planes took part.
Military analysts believe the drills were aimed at reminding Taiwan, whose ruling party want to sever ties with China, that full succession is off the table.
The drills came just 24 hours after a senior Chinese diplomat threatened to invade Taiwan should US warships visit the island.
China considers Taiwan to be a wayward province and has never renounced the use of force to bring it under its control.
The US has no formal ties with Taiwan but is bound by law to help it defend itself and is its main source of arms.
The US stations around 50,000 troops across 23 military bases in Japan – around 1,344 miles (2,163 km) northeast of Taiwan in the Pacific Ocean.
US President Trump angered China by signing off a controversial arms package of missile and radar systems valued at around £1billion ($1.4billion) earlier this year.
“War and peace are equally likely outcomes.” Military analyst Liang Guoliang
But Taiwan – a formal US-ally since 1979 – said the sale was justified due to longstanding fears China may attempt to bring the island under its control by military force.
Relations between Taiwan and China have crashed to an all time low after Beijing-skeptic President Tsai Ing-wen took power last year.
The latest drill is a “reminder to the Taiwanese public” of China’s “military might”, according to military expert Zhou Chenming.
“In the East China Sea, however, where China’s air defence identification zone overlaps with Japan’s, drills are more complicated and challenging, because Tokyo scrambles its fighters to [effectively] join the training, which helps the Chinese pilots to improve their combat skills,” he said.
In response to the drills, Taiwan dispatched aircraft and ships to monitor the exercises by the PLA, its defence minister Feng Shih-kuan said.
Last month, US officials accused China of risking war “on a daily basis” by carrying out an “aggressive campaign” of military flights in the region.
As tensions between North Korea and the US reaching fever pitch, war in the region is becoming a more likely scenario, military analyst Liang Guoliang said.
“While China has pushed for a peaceful resolution to the conflict, circumstances are such that war and peace are equally likely outcomes,” he said.
“To prepare for the worst, the PLA will conduct more frequent and more targeted drills in the region involving the different forces from its theatre commands.”