Taiwan scrambles air force after Chinese warplanes cross median line

By Yimou Lee

TAIPEI (Reuters) -Taiwan scrambled its air force on Thursday after spotting 20 Chinese warplanes crossing the median line of the Taiwan Strait, the unofficial barrier between the two sides, Taiwan’s defence ministry said, as Beijing continues military activities near the island.

The Chinese aircraft included an unspecified number of fighter jets and drones which entered Taiwan’s northern, central and southwestern air defence identification zones (ADIZ) from Thursday afternoon, the ministry said in a statement.

Taiwan sent aircraft to warn away the Chinese planes, while missile systems monitored them, the ministry said, using standard wording for its response.

Democratically ruled Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory, has complained in recent years of almost daily missions by the Chinese air force near the island, often in the southwestern part of its ADIZ.

Taiwan believes the frequent Chinese military activities near the island this week, including reporting 37 Chinese aircraft in the island’s ADIZ from Wednesday to Thursday, are meant to exert pressure on the United States amid a series of high-level talks between Beijing and Washington, according to a senior Taiwan security official.

“China is used to maximizing its military pressure amid negotiations,” the official, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter, said. “They want to increase their bargaining chips.”

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with senior U.S. officials last week, with both sides agreeing to hold a series of consultations in the near future.

Earlier this week, the U.S. destroyer USS Rafael Peralta and a Royal Canadian Navy frigate HMCS Ottawa transited the sensitive Taiwan Strait, a movement that was followed and monitored by the Chinese military.

(Reporting by Yimou Lee; Editing by Tomasz Janowski and Nick Macfie)