Chinese warplane activity near Taiwan hit a three-month high on Monday as a British minister visited the island, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said Monday that 62 of China’s People’s Liberation Army’s warplanes were detected in the “surrounding region” and that 32 of them crossed the median line or flew within the southwest corner of Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ).
An ADIZ is an area where a country requires foreign aircraft to identify itself, but the concept is not covered under any treaties and has no international regulations. While China’s flights in Taiwan’s ADIZ have been hyped up by Taiwan and Western media, before very recently, they were typically not close to the island.
But that changed after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) visited Taiwan at the beginning of August. In response, China launched its largest-ever military exercises around Taiwan and began flying warplanes across the median line, an informal barrier that separates the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, which was drawn by the US in the 1950s.
Pelosi arrived in Taiwan on August 2, and according to Bloomberg, Monday’s flights marked the most Chinese warplane activity around the island since August 5. It coincided with the arrival of British Trade Policy Minister Greg Hands to Taipei, who is visiting to hold talks with senior officials.
Hands’ visit to Taiwan came not long after Rishi Sunak was sworn in as Britain’s prime minister after Liz Truss stepped down. When running against Truss back in July, Sunak vowed to get tough on China and named Beijing the “biggest-long term threat to Britain.”
The spike in Chinese flights in the region also came as Lithuania opened a trade office in Taiwan despite China’s objection to the move. Since China considers Taiwan to be its own territory, it is against formal ties between the island and other governments. On Tuesday, the US launched formal trade talks with Taiwan, another initiative that has angered Beijing.
The uptick in China’s flights across the median line is unprecedented, as demonstrated by the numbers. According to Japan Times, China flew 302 sorties across the median line in August. Between 1954 and August 2020, China flew across the barrier only four times. Between September 2020 and Pelosi’s visit, Chinese warplanes made the flight 23 times.
The uptick in Chinese flights after August 2020 was in response to the Trump administration sending the highest-level cabinet officials to Taiwan since Washington severed diplomatic relations with Taipei in 1979.