Taiwan sent fighter jets to tail two Chinese military planes that entered the island’s air space, a week after a close encounter between a U.S. and Chinese jet.
“We responded immediately, asking them to leave,” Taiwan defense minister Yen Ming said yesterday in Taipei. Fighter jets were dispatched to warn the Chinese surveillance aircraft, each of which entered Taiwan airspace twice on Aug. 25, to leave, David Lo, spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense, said by phone today.
Tensions remain between China and Taiwan even as economic relations have strengthened since Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou took office in 2008. The two sides have been governed separately since China’s Nationalist government fled across the Taiwan Strait to the island during a civil war with Communist forces. China still claims Taiwan as part of its territory and has indicated it will take it back by force if necessary.
As China increases its economic and military muscle, encounters with other nations’ militaries have been on the rise. U.S. aircraft had at least two previous run-ins with Chinese jets this year prior to last week’s encounter, and Japanese and Chinese planes and ships regularly tail one another around disputed islands in the East China Sea.
China’s defense ministry confirmed it carried out “routine flight activities in relevant airspace” on Aug. 25, “with no unusual occurrences,” according to a faxed response to questions today.
On Aug. 19, a Chinese fighter jet in international waters flew within 20 feet of a U.S. Navy surveillance aircraft and did a barrel roll over it in what the White House called a provocation. The U.S. plane, a Boeing P-8 Poseidon submarine surveillance aircraft, was flying 135 miles (217 kilometers) east of Hainan Island, China’s main submarine base.
The Chinese navy fighter jet carried out a routine identification and verification operation, and U.S. claims that the Chinese action was provocative were “groundless,” Yang Yujun, spokesman for China’s Ministry of National Defense, said in a statement posted on the ministry’s website on Aug. 24.
Yang called on the U.S. to scale back its submarine surveillance in the area to avoid further incidents. Chinese and U.S. officials will meet this week to discuss a military code of conduct for the region as part of an existing plan to avoid such incidents, China Daily reported, citing China’s defense ministry.
Avenues for Dialogue
“Under no circumstances and under no rubric of military relations is it acceptable to fly a jet fighter around a reconnaissance airplane the way that was done,” Rear Admiral John Kirby said at briefing yesterday in Washington. “That said, that doesn’t meant that the relationship isn’t still worth pursuing, and we continue to look for avenues to try to increase the dialogue and the cooperation and the understanding and the transparency between our two countries.”
Kirby said that the U.S. would continue to fly in international airspace “the way we’ve been” doing.
(An earlier version of this story corrected the date of the incident.)