Two Chinese Su-27 fighter jets crossed the unofficial centerline of the Taiwan Strait briefly on June 29 during a routine training mission, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense said in a statement.
The act wasn’t considered a "deliberate provocation," the statement said. The Chinese fighter jets were in pursuit of a U.S. spy aircraft, the Financial Times reported today, citing unidentified defense sources in Taipei and Beijing.
Taiwan has been a flashpoint in U.S.-China relations since 1949, when the defeated Nationalist Chinese government fled to the island after the Communist victory on the mainland. China claims Taiwan to be part of its territory and has more than 1,000 missiles pointed at the island nation, which it threatens to invade if it declares formal independence.
The Chinese fighter aircraft flew off soon after Taiwan scrambled jets in response, Lt. Col. Chou Wei-kun at Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense said in a telephone interview today. Chou declined to comment on reports the fighters had crossed the dividing line in pursuit of a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft.
Relations across the Taiwan Strait are improving as Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou has worked to ease tensions by abandoning his predecessor’s pro-independence stance and boosting ties with the world’s fastest-growing major economy.
The incident marked the first time in more than a decade that Chinese military aircraft have entered Taiwan’s side of the strait, the Financial Times reported. The U.S. is obligated by law to help Taiwan defend itself while China considers Taiwan to be a renegade province.
A news official at China’s Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, who declined to be identified because of the agency’s rules, said she couldn’t immediately comment. Calls to the office of Geng Yansheng, director general of China’s Ministry of National Defense’s information bureau, were not immediately answered.
— With assistance by Kevin Hamlin