China Air Force Pushes Taiwan Defenses as U.S. Official Visits and Major Arms Deal Planned

The Chinese People Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) launched multiple incursions into Taiwanese air space on 18 September. According to the Taiwanese Ministry of Defense 18 PLAAF aircraft crossed the middle of the Taiwan Strait into their Air Defense Zone, leading to Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF) fighters having to be scrambled a reported 17 times to warn them away.

The ROCAF states that the intruding aircraft were composed of two H-6 bombers, eight J-16 fighters, four J-10 fighters and four J-11 fighters.

Graphic showing the flight path of the PLA aircraft (ROC Military)

The actions by the PLAAF are another step up in what has become an increasingly tense situation in the last few days. On 16 September Reuters reported that the Trump administration was planning to sell $7 billion worth of arms to the Taiwanese.

Though the report is unconfirmed (and in fact dismissed by the Taiwanese Ministry of Defense) Reuters state that informed sources say that the sale would include some important and advanced weapons such as “smart” naval mines and over-the-horizon surveillance and targeting drones.

This was followed by the arrival on 17 September of Keith Krach, the U.S. Undersecretary for Economic Affairs, for a three day visit – the most senior State Department official to visit Taiwan in four decades.

PLAAF footage of the J-16

China views Taiwan as a renegade province and as such vehemently denounces any official interactions it has with the United States. The talk of arms deals and senior American officials paying visits has caused China to announce that their forces are conducting exercises in the Straits of Taiwan to “test the joint operations capability of multi-services and arms”. This training is also apparently the cause for the increased intrusions.

There has also followed some fairly aggressive remarks from Chinese government officials. Colonel Zhang Chunhui of the PLAAF and spokesperson for the PLA Eastern Theater Command said in a written statement on Friday morning that the exercise and “relevant moves” were necessary measures to safeguard national unity, territorial sovereignty and security.

Zhang also gave a warning that the PLA would thwart any attempt by any person or force to carry out “Taiwan independence” separatist activities in any form.