HONG KONG — Taiwan sharply criticized China Saturday after dozens of military jets flew into its air defense zone in what it said was the largest incursion by Beijing to date.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense said in a statement that 20 aircraft, all fighters apart from two anti-submarine aircraft flew in the vicinity of the the Pratas Islands on Saturday.
That came less than 24 hours after the ministry said that 38 Chinese warplanes flew into its air defense identification zone, or ADIZ, on Friday. This type of airspace is one that many countries define around their territories as a way to monitor air traffic but is not recognized by international law.
Friday’s incursion surpassed the previous peak of 28 Chinese military planes that flew into Taiwan’s air defense zone in June, the ministry said.
“China has been wantonly engaged in military aggression, damaging regional peace,” Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang told reporters Saturday morning.
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The first wave of incursions on Friday comprised 18 J-16 and four Su-30 fighter jets plus two nuclear-capable H-6 bombers and an anti-submarine aircraft, Taiwan’s defense ministry said in a statement.
The second was made up of 10 J-16s, 2 H-6s and an early warning aircraft, it said in a separate statement.
The first batch of Chinese aircraft all flew in an area close to the Pratas Islands, with the two bombers flying closest to the atoll, according to a map issued by the ministry.
The second group flew down into the Bashi Channel that separates Taiwan from the Philippines, a key waterway that links the Pacific with the disputed South China Sea, a second map showed.
Both incursions came as Beijing celebrated the 72nd anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
Taiwan’s defense ministry said it sent combat aircraft to warn away the Chinese aircraft, while missile systems were deployed to monitor them.
China has yet to officially comment on either exercise, but the Global Times, a state-run newspaper and website, reported on Friday’s incursion.
The escalation comes against a backdrop of Washington’s worsening relations with Beijing, and its closer ties with Taipei.
China views Taiwan as an illegitimate breakaway province which is part of China’s territory. When the civil war in China between the communists and nationalists ended in 1949 with the former triumphant, the latter set up a rival government in Taipei.
Since the 1970s the U.S. has officially only recognized Beijing, but has since become Taiwan’s main arms supplier and international backer.
Friday’s mission came shortly after Beijing criticized Taiwan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Joseph Wu, an outspoken supporter of the island’s democratic efforts to push back against China.
In a statement Thursday, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office accused Wu of “frantically making Taiwan independence speeches” on the international stage.
After’s China’s military display on Friday, Wu tweeted from Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ account that it “wasn’t a good day.”