China has flown dozens of warplanes towards Taiwan in its largest display of power of the new year, continuing a pattern that caused the island to scramble its own jets in response.
The formation of 39 jets on Sunday night included 24 J-16 fighter jets and 10 J-10 jets, among other support and electronic warfare aircraft, according to Taiwan’s defence ministry.
Taiwan’s air force tracked the People’s Liberation Army planes on its air defence radar systems, it added.
Chinese pilots have been flying towards Taiwan on a near-daily basis during the past year and a half, since Taiwan’s government started publishing the data regularly.
The largest sortie was 56 warplanes on a single day last October.
The activity has generally been in the air space southwest of Taiwan.
This falls into what Taiwan’s military calls the air defence identification zone, or air space it monitors out of national security considerations.
Taiwan and China split during a civil war in 1949, but China claims the island as its own territory.
The action came a day after the United States and Japanese navies put on their own show of force in the Philippine Sea.
The flotilla included two US Navy aircraft carriers, two American amphibious assault ships and a Japanese helicopter destroyer.
The US Navy tweeted: “Operations in the #PhilippineSea Jan. 22, w/ships & aircraft from #USSCarlVinson & #USSAbrahamLincoln Carrier Strike Groups, Carrier Air Wings 9 & 2, #USSAmerica & #USSEssex Amphibious Ready Groups joined by elements from the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force.”
The Philippine Sea is the area of the Pacific Ocean east of Taiwan.
A US Navy statement said the mass of warships was “conducting training to preserve and protect a free and open Indo-Pacific region”.
Relations between the US and China have become tense during the pandemic.
On Friday the Chinese government called the Biden administration’s decision to suspend 44 flights by Chinese carriers to the US “very unreasonable”.
The US Transportation Department said the flights were being suspended in response to China’s decision to suspend 44 flights from United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines in recent weeks.
Liu Pengyu, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington said the policy of barring some flights after
positive COVID-19 cases are discovered “has been applied equally to Chinese and foreign airlines in a fair, open and transparent way”.
“It is very unreasonable for the US to suspend Chinese airlines’ flights on this ground. We urge the US side to stop
disrupting and restricting the normal passenger flights operated by Chinese airlines.”