Taiwan slams ‘provocative’ China for sending fighters across Taiwan Strait

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Taiwan: Chinese fighters crossed Taiwan Strait median line
Median line serves as unofficial buffer between the two
China says it carried out combat exercises near Taiwan
Senior U.S. senator in Taipei meeting President Tsai
TAIPEI/BEIJING, July 8 (Reuters) – Chinese fighter jets crossed the median line of the sensitive Taiwan Strait on Friday in what the island’s government slammed as a provocation, as a senior U.S. senator visited Taipei for a meeting with President Tsai Ing-wen that China condemned.

China claims democratically-ruled Taiwan as its own territory and has ramped up military and political pressure to try and force the island to accept Chinese rule.

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Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said the Chinese aircraft “intentionally crossed the median line of the strait in a provocative move, which has seriously damaged regional peace and stability”.

It said Taiwan’s air force “forcefully expelled” the Chinese aircraft and deployed ground-to-air missiles to “monitor” the situation.

The median line is an unofficial buffer between China and Taiwan and normally military aircraft stick to their respective sides, but on occasion China’s air force crosses over it, as happened in 2020 when U.S. officials were visiting Taiwan.

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Several Chinese fighter jets crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait on Friday in the northern part of the waterway, a Taiwan source briefed on the matter told Reuters, adding the aircraft did not enter Taiwanese airspace.

The source said it was rare for Chinese aircraft to cross the unofficial buffer, especially from Taiwan’s northwest.

The aircraft “flew straight across” the median line and then “circled around” carrying out tactical operations, the person said, adding that Taiwan scrambled fighter jets to intercept the Chinese planes.

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“It was a clear message of provocation,” the person said, citing Friday’s visit to Taipei by U.S. Senator Rick Scott, a senior Republican who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee and sits on the Senate’s Armed Services Committee.

Earlier on Friday, China’s military said it had held joint combat readiness exercises, patrols and combat drills in the sea and airspace around Taiwan.

The exercises, announced by the Eastern Theatre Command of the People’s Liberation Army, were organised in response to “collusion and provocations” by the United States and Taiwan, Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Wu Qian said in a statement.

‘THWART INTERFERENCE’
China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory, bristles at any form of official interaction between U.S. and Taiwanese officials and routinely describes Taiwan as the most sensitive and important issue in its relations with Washington.

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Chinese spokesman Wu said Scott’s visit to Taiwan had seriously undermined Sino-U.S. relations and escalated tensions in the Taiwan Strait.

“The Chinese People’s Liberation Army is ready for war at all times, and will take all necessary measures to resolutely thwart the interference of external forces and the secessionist attempts of ‘Taiwan independence’.”

After meeting with President Tsai in Taipei on Friday, Scott told reporters he believes that “the world has changed” following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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“We all have to put ourselves in a position that we can make sure we defend the freedom we all believe in,” he said. “I do think it would be helpful if Taiwan participated in RIMPAC and I hope that’s what happens in the future.”

The Rim of the Pacific exercise, known as RIMPAC, is billed as the world’s largest international maritime exercise, with the latest one kicking off late last month with 26 nations participating in drills around Hawaii and southern California.

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Taiwan’s government has denounced Chinese pressure, saying only its 23 million people can decide their future.

U.S.-China tensions are high over a number of issues including Taiwan, the South China Sea, trade tariffs and Beijing’s refusal to openly criticise Russian President Vladimir Putin over the war in Ukraine.

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is due to meet with Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi on Saturday at the G20 foreign ministers meeting in Bali.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard Editinbg by Mark Heinrich