Beijing jets approach as Taiwan mourns for ex-president's death

China | 19 Sep 2020 2:50 pm

Taiwan's air force scrambled jets for a second consecutive day on Saturday as multiple mainland aircraft approached the island and crossed the sensitive midline of the Taiwan Strait, with the island's government urging Beijing to "pull back from the edge," Reuters reports. 

Taiwan's Defence Ministry said 19 aircraft were involved, one more than in the previous day, with some crossing the Taiwan Strait midline and others flying into Taiwan's air defence identification zone off its southwest coast.

It said Beijing sent 12 J-16 fighters, two J-10 fighters, two J-11 fighters, two H-6 bombers and one Y-8 anti-submarine aircraft. According to a map the ministry provided, none got close to the island of Taiwan itself or flew over it.

"ROCAF scrambled fighters, and deployed air defence missile system to monitor the activities," the ministry said in a tweet, referring to the Republic of China Air Force, the formal name of Taiwan's air force.

Beijing had on Friday announced combat drills near the Taiwan Strait and denounced what it called collusion between the island and the United States.

US Undersecretary for Economic Affairs Keith Krach arrived in Taipei on Thursday for a three-day visit, the most senior State Department official to come to Taiwan in four decades, angering China.

The latest flights came the same day Taiwan held a memorial service for former president Lee Teng-hui, dubbed "Mr Democracy" for ending autocratic rule in favour of free elections.

Lee, who died in July, became Taiwan's first democratically elected president in March 1996 after eight months of intimidating war games and missile tests by Beijing in waters around the island.

Those events brought the mainland and Taiwan to the verge of conflict, prompting the United States to send an aircraft carrier task force to the area in a warning to Beijing.

The state-backed tabloid the Global Times, published by the Communist Party's official People's Daily, said in a Saturday editorial that Friday's drills were a rehearsal to take over Taiwan.

"The US and Taiwan must not misjudge the situation, or believe the exercise is a bluff. Should they continue to make provocations, a war will inevitably break out," it said. 

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