China sends 39 warplanes toward Taiwan, largest deployment so far this year

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China flew 39 warplanes toward Taiwan in its largest such sortie of the new year, continuing a pattern that the island has answered by scrambling its own jets in response.

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The formation Sunday night included 24 J-16 fighter jets and 10 J-10 jets, among other support aircraft and electronic warfare aircraft, according to Taiwan’s defense ministry.

Taiwan’s air force responded with its own aircraft and tracked the People’s Liberation Army planes on its air defense radar systems, the defense ministry said.

Chinese pilots have been flying towards Taiwan on a near-daily basis in the past year and a half, since Taiwan’s government started publishing the data regularly. The largest sortie was 56 warplanes on a single day last October.

The activity has generally been in the air space southwest of Taiwan and falls into what Taiwan’s military calls the air defense identification zone, or air space it monitors out of national security considerations.

Taiwan and China split during a civil war in 1949, but China claims the island as its own territory. As a result, Beijing opposes any action that would identify Taiwan as a sovereign state and has used diplomatic and military means to isolate and intimidate Taiwan.

Tensions have been high since Taiwanese citizens elected Tsai Ing-wen as president in 2016, to which Beijing responded by cutting off previously established communications with the island’s government. Tsai’s predecessor was friendly to China and had endorsed Beijing’s claim that the two are part of a single Chinese nation.

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