Taiwan’s air force scrambled fighter jets to deter an incursion by the Chinese air force on Thursday. Taipei claimed as many as 39 Chinese aircraft had entered its airspace.
Taiwan said the aircraft, as well as three warships, were a mix of fighters and Xian H-6 bombers and flew to the south-west of the island. China has several hundred H-6 aircraft, a heavily upgraded variant of the Soviet-era Tupolev TU-16.
They are capable of carrying missiles fitted with nuclear warheads and six of the bombers were deployed in the recent incursion, a smaller number than a December 13 force sent near the island, which included 18 of the aircraft.
Fears are growing that a military conflict could erupt between China and Taiwan after Chinese President Xi Jinping said in October that Beijing had a right to use force to “reunify” Taiwan with the mainland.
A conflict on the island would be devastating to the global economy, wiping out more than $2 trillion from global GDP, a recent US government report said.
Taiwan manufactures around 90 per cent of the world’s “leading edge” semiconductors, which are used in smartphones and high-end laptops. Experts say a war would destroy this production capacity for years.
Analysts say the frequent incursions are designed to impose a cost on Taiwan’s readiness for conflict, of maintaining expensive jet fighters.
Many of the aircraft flew over a waterway known as the Bashi Channel to an area off the island's south-eastern coast, a map provided by the ministry showed.
Taiwan sent unspecified combat aircraft to warn away the Chinese planes, while missile systems monitored their flight, the ministry said, using standard wording for its response.
Separate Taiwan government notices have said the defence ministry's research and development arm, the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology, is holding a missile firing drill this week on the island's south-eastern coast.
China, which claims Taiwan as its own, has stepped up pressure in recent years on the self-governed island to accept Beijing's rule. Taiwan's government rejects the Chinese claims and says it wants peace but will defend itself if attacked.