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Taiwan scrambles jets as Chinese planes buzz island-nation

Taiwan says it scrambled fighter jets to try to intercept eighteen Chinese aircraft that buzzed the island on Friday.

The authorities in Taipei said the Chinese planes crossed the sensitive mid-line of the Taiwan Strait, in response to a senior US diplomat holding talks in the capital with Taiwanese officials.

China had earlier announced combat drills and denounced what it called collusion between the island, which it claims as a renegade province of its own, and the US.

US Undersecretary for Economic Affairs Keith Krach arrived in Taipei on Thursday for a three-day visit. He’s the most senior State Department official to come to Taiwan in four decades.

China had condemned the visit, promising a “necessary response”.

With a US presidential election looming in November, Sino-US relations are already under huge strain, not least from a trade war and the coronavirus pandemic.

Taiwan said 18 Chinese aircraft were involved in the Friday incident, far more than in previous such encounters.

“ROCAF scrambled fighters, and deployed air defense missile system to monitor the activities,” a Taiwanese defence ministry statement said.

The ROCAF, Taiwan’s air force, has scrambled frequently in recent months in response to Chinese intrusions.

The ministry showed a map of the flight paths of Chinese jets crossing the Taiwan Strait mid-line, which combat aircraft from both sides normally avoid passing through.

According to Taiwan’s Liberty Times newspaper, Taiwanese jets had scrambled seventeen times over four hours, warning China’s air force to stay away.

It also showed a picture of missiles being loaded onto an F-16 fighter at the Hualien air base on Taiwan’s east coast.

Taiwan’s presidential office urged China to exercise restraint, and urged the Taiwanese not to be alarmed, saying the military had a grasp on the situation.

In Beijing, Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said Friday’s maneuvers, about which he gave no details, involved the People’s Liberation Army’s eastern theater command.

In recent weeks, Taiwanese government officials, including President Tsai Ing-wen, have expressed concern that an accidental military encounter could spark a wider conflict.

Beijing has watched with growing alarm the ever-closer relationship between Taipei and Washington, and has stepped up military exercises near the island, including two days of large-scale air and sea drills last week.

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