37 Chinese aircraft around Taiwan on way to western Pacific — Taipei

Agence France-Presse
37 Chinese aircraft around Taiwan on way to western Pacific  � Taipei
A formation of military airplanes, one HY-6 tanker aircraft and two J-10 fighters, fly over Beijing during a military parade at Tiananmen Square on October 1, 2019, to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.
AFP / Greg Baker

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwan's defense ministry said 37 Chinese aircraft were detected around the self-ruled island Wednesday as they "headed to the Western Pacific" for exercises with an aircraft carrier.

China claims democratic Taiwan as part of its territory and maintains a near-daily presence of fighter jets, drones and warships around the island, which is located 180 kilometres (110 miles) from the southern Chinese coast.

It is also a crucial part of a chain of islands that military strategists say serve as a gateway from the South China Sea -- which China claims in nearly its entirety -- to the Pacific Ocean.

On Wednesday, around 9:30 am local time (0130 GMT), Taipei said that "since 0520 today, the Ministry of National Defense detected a total of 37 Chinese aircraft" around Taiwan, including fighter jets, bombers and drones.

Thirty-six of the aircraft crossed the sensitive median line of the Taiwan Strait -- which bisects the narrow waterway separating the island from China.

"(The aircraft) headed to the Western Pacific via our southern and southeastern airspace to cooperate with the aircraft carrier the Shandong in conducting 'joint sea and air training'," the defense ministry said in a statement.

It added that Taiwan's armed forces monitored the situation and deployed "air craft, navy vessels and coastal missile systems" in response.

The Chinese flights come a day after Japan's Joint Staff Office confirmed that four PLA navy vessels -- including the aircraft carrier Shandong -- were sailing in the sea 520 kilometres southeast of Miyako Island.

"On the same day, the Chinese navy's Kuznetsov-class aircraft carrier 'Shandong' was observed landing and departing fighter aircraft and helicopters on board," it said in a statement Tuesday.

China has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control, and has ramped up military and political pressures on the island in recent years.

In May, days after Taiwanese President Lai Ching-te took office, China launched war games around the island as "punishment" for an inauguration speech that Beijing called a "confession of Taiwan independence".

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