Taiwan scrambles jets as China's air force holds drill near island

Tensions are rising between the two countries

Judith Vonberg
Monday 26 March 2018 16:11 BST
A Taiwan Air Force US-made F-16 fighter jet takes off from a highway in southern Taiwan in September 2014
A Taiwan Air Force US-made F-16 fighter jet takes off from a highway in southern Taiwan in September 2014 (REUTERS/Pichi Chuang)

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Jets from Taiwan were sent to shadow Chinese air force fighter jets flying through the Bashi Channel just south of the island on Monday, according to Taiwan's defence ministry, further escalating tensions between the countries.

According to the ministry, China was sending an unspecified number of fighter jets, bombers and transport aircraft to the West Pacific Ocean via the channel, which lies east of Hong Kong.

Taiwan jets followed the aircraft until they returned to base, the ministry said in a statement.

It follows a similar occurrence last week, when Taiwan sent ships and aircraft to shadow a Chinese aircraft carrier group that sailed through the narrow Taiwan Straight.

Taiwan is one of China's most sensitive issues and a potential military flashpoint.

The Chinese military movements come during a time of heightened tension between Beijing and the self-governed island and follow strong warnings by Chinese President Xi Jinping against Taiwan separatism.

China claims Taiwan as its own and considers the island a breakaway province. Xi said last week Taiwan would face the "punishment of history" for any attempt at separatism.

Taiwan says China has ramped up military exercises around the island in the past year or so.

While China insists it has no hostile intent, its activities around Taiwan and in the busy South China Sea waterway have touched a nerve in the region and in the United States.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Alex Wong angered Beijing during a recent visit to Taiwan by saying the US commitment to the island had never been stronger.

Beijing is already furious about a law signed two weeks ago by Donald Trump that encourages the United States to send senior officials to Taiwan to meet counterparts and vice versa.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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