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China sends fighter jets towards Taiwan

Show of force came as Taiwan said it had submitted an application to join 11-nation Pacific pact

China sent 19 aircraft towards Taiwan on Thursday amid rising tensions across the straits, in the latest messaging from Beijing to both Taipei and Washington on its posture on the Taiwan issue.

Beijing has in the past used its air force as a form of signalling, for instance recently dispatching fighters to coincide with visits of U.S. diplomats to Taiwan.

The latest show of force came as Taiwan said it had submitted an application to join the 11-nation CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) trade deal, days after China said it had formally applied to join the Pacific pact.

Air patrol forces

Taiwan’s Ministry of Defence said on Thursday it had deployed air patrol forces in response to the 19 PLA aircraft that had entered the Air Defence Identification Zone. The PLA aircraft included 12 J-16s, two J-11s, bombers and anti-submarine aircraft, a statement said.

China views Taiwan as its province, although both have been ruled separately since the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949 when the Kuomintang (KMT) and Chiang Kai-shek fled to the island.

Cross-straits ties have been strained in recent years with Beijing accusing the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and President Tsai Ing-wen, who was re-elected for a second term last year, of pursuing “independence”.

Prior to the DPP coming to power in 2016, ties had somewhat warmed under the KMT’s Ma Ying-Jeou, who held a landmark meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2015 and backed an economic cooperation agreement that was signed in 2010.

Beijing has increasingly sought to push back against Taiwan seeking a presence in international bodies, wean away the few remaining countries that still maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan, and deploy its aircraft and vessels with growing frequency, particularly in response to the presence of U.S. vessels in the straits.

‘Unofficial delegation’

Taiwan is among the many issues that Beijing and Washington have recently clashed over, with the Biden administration, three months after taking office, sending an “unofficial” delegation to Taiwan in April this year as a show of support.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Thursday hit out at the application to join the CPTPP.

“There is only one China in the world, and Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory,” spokesperson Zhao Lijian said.

“The one-China principle is a universally recognised norm governing international relations and the consensus of the international community. China firmly opposes all official interactions with Taiwan, firmly rejects Taiwan’s accession to any agreement or organisation of official nature. China’s position on this issue is clear.”

Meanwhile, the PLA’s Eastern Theater Command said on Saturday it “dispatched naval and air forces to conduct joint patrols and combat exercises in the waters and airspace southwest of Taiwan after a U.S. warship transited the Taiwan Straits to provoke China concerning its sovereignty”.

This followed the U.S. 7th fleet staying a missile destroyer had sailed through the Taiwan Straits on Friday.

Senior Colonel Shi Yi said the PLA “organised troops to follow, supervise and monitor the U.S. ship throughout its passage in the Taiwan Straits”.

He added that “the frequent provocations fully prove that the U.S. is undermining the peace and stability of the Taiwan Straits and creating risks in the region”.

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