By Yimou Lee
TAIPEI (Reuters) -Seventy-one Chinese air force aircraft including fighter jets and drones entered Taiwan’s air defence identification zone in the past 24 hours, the island’s government said on Monday, the largest reported incursion to date.
The incursion included 43 Chinese aircraft that crossed the Taiwan Strait’s median line, an unofficial buffer between the two sides that lies within the defence zone, Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said in a report, as Beijing continues military activities close to the Chinese-claimed island.
Taiwan’s official Central News Agency said it was the largest Chinese air force incursion to date, although there was no sense of alarm on the island, which has witnessed a steady increase in Chinese pressure in recent years.
China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory, said it had conducted “strike drills” in the sea and airspace around Taiwan on Sunday in response to what it said was provocation from the democratically governed island and the United States.
Taiwan, which strongly rejects China’s sovereignty claims, said the drills showed Beijing was destroying regional peace and trying to intimidate Taiwan’s people.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, speaking at a military ceremony on Monday morning, reiterated the need for Taiwan to boost its defence capacity due to “the continuous expansion of authoritarianism”, although she made no mention of the latest military activity.
“The more preparations we make, the less likely there will be rash attempts of aggression. The more united we are, the stronger and safer Taiwan would become,” Tsai told the assembled officers.
Some of the Chinese planes, mostly fighter jets, briefly crossed the median line in the sensitive Taiwan Strait before returning to China, according to a map provided by Taiwan’s defence ministry. Seven Chinese navy ships were also detected near Taiwan, the ministry said.
China’s military also sent early warning, electronic-warfare and antisubmarine aircraft, as well as drones, into Taiwan’s southern air defence identification zone, or ADIZ, according to the report, which detailed Chinese activities near Taiwan over the 24 hours to 6 a.m. (2200 GMT on Sunday).
Taipei has complained of repeated missions by the Chinese air force over the last two years, often in southern areas of its ADIZ.
Taiwan sent unspecified combat aircraft to warn away the Chinese planes, while missile systems monitored their flight, the ministry said, using standard wording for its response.
China has stepped up its diplomatic, military and economic pressure in recent years on the self-governed island to accept Beijing’s rule. Taiwan’s government says it wants peace but will defend itself if attacked.
(Reporting by Yimou Lee; Editing by Christopher Cushing and Edmund Klamann)