Su-30 fighters of the PLA Air Force fly above the Taiwan Strait. Photo: PLAAF

Taiwan’s air defense zone was breached at an unprecedented rate by Chinese warplanes last year, with squadrons of bombers and spy planes plying routes previously off limits to the Chinese military.

Beijing regards Taiwan as a breakaway province and maintains that the self-ruling democracy must come under its rule, either through peaceful reunification or military capture.

So “routine” have incursions from People’s Liberation Army plans become that the island’s defense ministry has even decided to stop disseminating news of them, either via its website or in press conferences. When PLA warplanes first began traversing Taiwanese airspace a few years ago, the news raised significant public outcry.

Taiwan’s Central Mountain Range is visible in the background in a photo dispatched by the PLA Air Force.

In one mission, in mid December, a battalion of H-6K strategic bombers, Su-30 and J-11 interdiction fighters, in addition to other reconnaissance planes and tanker aircraft, not only circled Taiwan but also skimmed Japan’s air defense zone above the Sea of Japan. Taiwan’s Central Mountain Range was seen in the background of photos dispatched by the PLA Air Force about its pilots’  “righteous” patrol of “China’s own soil and air.”

Taipei-based military monthly Defense International notes in a feature that PLA warplanes penetrating the region is an attritional tactic aimed at depleting the morale and resources of the Taiwanese Air Force, as the latter will have to scramble its own jets, such as its F-16 and indigenous F-CK-1 Ching-kuo fighters, to monitor and intercept the enemy.

Jet fighters from the Taiwanese military are dispatched to intercept whenever PLA warplanes approach. Photo: Taiwan Defense Ministry

The magazine states that Taiwan is already overstretched in terms of maintaining a combat-ready army as it pursues a “containment” policy towards China with a “ration”-like arms supply from the United States.

A People’s Liberation Army Air Force H-6K strategic bomber. Photo: Xinhua

Michael S. Chase, a senior political scientist at the US think tank RAND Corp. told Guangzhou-based Southern Weekly that PLA warplanes’ high-profile hops from its bases in central China to the high seas in western Pacific are intended to pry out and gauge the deployment, interception and command and control strengths and capabilities of not only the Taiwanese military but also the armed forces of Japan and South Korea.

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