Feb. 13 (UPI) — China sent 18 warplanes and four naval vessels into the waters and airspace around Taiwan, Taipei’s military said Monday, after the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps held joint exercises in the South China Sea over the weekend.
Eleven aircraft, including four Chengdu J-10 fighter planes, two Shenyang J-11 fighter jets and two Shenyang J-16 jet fighters, crossed the Taiwan Strait median line, Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense said Monday morning.
Taipei dispatched aircraft and naval vessels to respond and monitored the Chinese craft with land-based missile systems, the ministry said.
China considers the democratic island of 23 million a wayward province and has vowed to seize control of it by force if necessary. Taiwan has never been a part of the mainland People’s Republic of China, which was founded in 1949, and rejects Beijing’s sovereignty claims.
Incursions by Chinese aircraft and ships have become a commonplace occurrence in recent years, a tactic that Taiwan’s military calls “gray zone” warfare meant to strain the island’s defense capabilities and wear down its morale.
Taiwan has also been at the center of rising tensions between Beijing and Washington. A visit by then-U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to Taipei in August sparked outrage from China, which responded with its largest-ever war games around the island.
Washington has continued to sell weapons to Taipei and U.S. President Joe Biden has said on four occasions that the U.S. military would defend Taiwan against invasion attempts from China.
The latest Chinese incursions come after the U.S. Navy and Marines held joint drills in the nearby South China Sea over the weekend.
The USS Nimitz Carrier Strike Group and the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit conducted “integrated expeditionary strike force operations,” the Navy said on Sunday.
The exercises “increase our ability to create theater-wide effects in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Rear Adm. Christopher Sweeney said in a statement released by the U.S. 7th Fleet.
China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, a contention that an international tribune in The Hague rejected in 2016.
In a move to counteract Beijing’s growing assertiveness in the region, Washington and Manila announced plans earlier this month to step up the U.S. military presence in the Philippines with access to four new locations.