Twenty-five Chinese military aircraft have entered Taiwanese airspace in the largest reported incursion to date, according to officials.
Taiwan‘s government has complained in recent months after repeated missions by China‘s air force near the island.
The incursions have been concentrated in the southwestern part of Taiwan’s air defence zone.
The latest mission on Monday involved 14 J-16 and four J-10 fighter jets – and four H-6K bombers, which can carry nuclear weapons.
Two anti-submarine aircraft and an early warning aircraft also took part, Taiwan’s defence minister said.
It is believed to be the largest incursion by the Chinese air force into Taiwanese airspace, and officials said combat aircraft were dispatched to intercept and warn the intruders away.
Missile systems were also deployed to monitor the Chinese vessels as the aircraft flew in an area close to Thailand’s Pratas Islands, according to the defence ministry.
It came just three days after the US issued new guidelines that will deepen its ties with Taiwan.
The latest guidelines from the US State Department will mean American officials can meet more freely with their Taiwanese counterparts.
America, like most countries, has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, but it has watched on as tensions between Beijing and the island nation have stepped up in recent years.
Washington’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last Friday that the US is concerned about China’s aggressive actions against Taiwan – and warned it would be a “serious mistake” for anyone to try to change the status quo in the Western Pacific by force.
Mr Blinken’s statement came after Taiwan scrambled an aircraft to broadcast a warning message after 12 Chinese jets flew over its airspace on 7 April.
The tense start to 2021 comes after a report released by a government-backed think tank found that China made a record 380 incursions into Taiwan’s defence zone last year.
China describes Taiwan as its most sensitive territorial issue and a red line the US should not cross.
Beijing sees the island as a breakaway province that will one day become part of the country again. It has never renounced the possible use of force to bring about eventual unification.
However, Taiwanese people see themselves an independent state and the dispute with their giant neighbour has left relations frayed with the constant threat of violence.
China has in the past described its missions as being to protect the country’s sovereignty and deal with “collusion” between Taipei and Washington.
Taiwan’s foreign minister Joseph Wu has previously said the country will fight “to the very last day” if China attacks.
More widely, China continues to exercise its muscle in the South China Sea.
Over the weekend, military activity near the Philippines spiked as a Chinese aircraft carrier entered the region, and the US military is preparing joint drills with the Philippine military nearby.
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