China’s military is expanding its airbases near Taiwan by deploying its new fighter jets, which are designed for electronic warfare, according to satellite imagery and a People’s Liberation Army source.
China has sent a record number of warplanes, 148 in just the past week, to the island’s air defence identification zone as part of its strategy to ramp up its military intimidation of the self-ruling democracy and test its air defences.
On Monday, a record 56 Chinese warplanes intruded into Taiwan’s airspace, prompting Taipei’s defence ministry to scramble its air defence system and issue warnings. The show of force marked the fourth straight day of intrusions by aircraft belonging to the People’s Liberation Army. Taiwan has described these incursions as “irresponsible provocative actions”, while the US, Japan and Australia urged China to end its military threats.
The satellite image showing China’s airbases near eastern Taiwan was released by Canada-based Kanwa Defence Review and it shows a J-16D fighter jet being housed at an airbase in Jiangxi province, China.
Andrei Chang, editor-in-chief of the defence magazine, said the satellite imagery showed the J-16D had been deployed to the Xiangtang airbase in Nanchang, Jiangxi, in May. One satellite image showed hangars at the airbase that can accommodate advanced fighter jets like the J-16D.
A separate image from January showed another airbase in Changxing county, Zhejiang province, being expanded with new hangars and other infrastructure being built.
Both airbases are run by the PLA’s Eastern Theatre Command, according to South China Morning Post.
“All the airbases along the southeast coast are being expanded and upgraded to house more fighter jets as more and more large-scale air incursions are in the pipeline,” Mr Chang said. “The deployment of 52 aircraft [in the first sortie] on Monday shows the PLA’s aviation combat strength. I expect more types of PLA aircraft will be sent in future, with the biggest sorties involving more than 100 [planes].”
A PLA source in Beijing, China, on the condition of anonymity, confirmed to South China Morning Post that the J-16D fighter jet had been deployed to an eastern airbase near Taiwan. He said that the military activity near Taiwan was “part of combat-readiness training”.
“The escalation of air incursions from the PLA means more fighters from Taiwan need to carry out scramble missions, which increases the chance of collision because there aren’t any rules of engagement,” Mr Chang added.
US President Joe Biden on Wednesday said that he had spoken to Chinese President Xi Jinping about Taiwan.
Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-Cheng told the island’s parliament that tensions with China were at their worst in 40 years. He also warned that Beijing could have the ability to mount a full-scale invasion of the democratic island by 2025.
Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, has also called China’s recent actions around Taiwan “provocative” and warned of the risks of “miscalculation”.
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