Taiwan says Chinese air force approached close to island’s coast

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Eight Chinese war planes crossed the Taiwan Strait’s median line and approached close to the island’s contiguous zone that is 24 nautical miles (44.4 km) off its coast on Saturday, the Taiwanese defence ministry said, in a further rise in tensions.

China’s air force over the past three years has routinely flown into the air space around Taiwan. And since last August it has regularly sent jets across the strait’s median line, which had previously served as an unofficial barrier.

In March, Taiwan Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng warned that the island had to be on alert this year for a “sudden entry” by the Chinese military into areas close to its territory.

Taiwan defines its contiguous zone as being 24 nautical miles from its coast. Its territorial space is defined at 12 nautical miles from its coast, although the government has not reported Chinese aircraft coming that close.

Taiwan’s defence ministry said in a statement that starting from around 8 a.m. (0000GMT) on Saturday, it had detected 19 Chinese warplanes, including J-10 and J-16 fighters.

Eight of those crossed the median line and “got close” to the 24 nautical mile mark, it said. At the same time, the ministry said five Chinese warships carried out what it termed “joint combat readiness patrols”.

Taiwan sent up its own aircraft and dispatched ships in response and activated land-based missile systems, the ministry said, using standard wording for how its forces react to Chinese incursions.

China claims democratically governed Taiwan as its own territory. Taiwan’s government rejects the claims and says only the island’s people can decide their future.