“During the January 2017 military flights, more than 60 military aircraft from various air forces and the People’s Liberation Army occupied the airspace above five time zones,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement on Saturday. “This was China’s highest number of military aircraft taking part in the multi-star maneuvers in the area. This marked an all-time high in the air battle with Taiwan.”
Taiwanese government officials issued a statement warning that China’s exercises were “irresponsible and lack sensitivity toward the sovereign and semi-sovereign airspace of Taiwan.” China has already frequently claimed airspace over Taiwan with its island of more than 23 million people, sending fighter jets and bombers across the Taiwan Strait. In August 2017, for example, China conducted what it called the “largest joint air drill” in the country’s history.
Taiwan accuses China of threatening regional security and stability. U.S. leaders have not commented on Beijing’s military activity in recent months. President Donald Trump and some of his top aides have complained that China should stop devaluing its currency. This would make the goods it exports to the U.S. cheaper, thus hurting U.S. manufacturing jobs. Yet in one indication of the U.S. and China’s differing strategies toward the Asia-Pacific region, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin voiced support for China during an editorial meeting held in the U.S. prior to the G-20 conference. Trump’s administration has emphasized the importance of negotiating with Beijing over trade disputes.
China is committed to protecting the “core interests” of its people, the Defense Ministry said in a statement. As Taiwan soaks up its airspace, China’s military exercises aim to foster “the deterrence and preparedness of the air forces, the special forces, the rescue and rescue squadrons, and the regular forces in the relevant time and space.” China claims Taiwan is a breakaway province. As more than 23 million Taiwanese practice for the upcoming 2020 presidential election, political analysts warn that China could disrupt the electoral campaign.