The United States has reaffirmed its support for Taiwan following China’s deployment of warplanes near the island in a blatant attempt to intimidate its democratic government and test the decision on the new US presidential administration.
The U.S. State Department on Saturday said it was concerned about China’s “pattern of ongoing attempts to intimidate its neighbors, including Taiwan.”
“We urge Beijing to end its military, diplomatic and economic pressure on Taiwan and instead engage in a meaningful dialogue with Taiwan’s democratically elected representatives,” said Ned Price, a spokesman for the department.
Taiwan’s defense ministry said China on Saturday sent eight nuclear-capable bombers and four fighter jets to its identity zone for air defense just southwest of the island. The ministry said China on Sunday sent another 16 military aircraft of various types to the same area.
The ministry said Taiwan responded by crawling fighters, sending radio alerts and “using air defense missile systems to monitor activity.”
There was no immediate Chinese comment on Sunday.
The overflights were part of a long-running intrusion pattern aimed at pressuring President Tsai Ing-wen’s government to monitor Beijing’s demands that it recognize Taiwan as part of Chinese territory.
They come on the heels of President Joe Biden’s inauguration and emphasize the island’s enduring position in the panoply of divisive issues that also include human rights, trade disputes and most recently questions about China’s first response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Biden’s administration has shown little sign of easing pressure on China on such issues, although it sees favor in returning to more civil dialogue.
In a statement issued by the State Department on Saturday, Washington said it would continue to deepen ties with Taiwan and secure its defense against Chinese threats, while supporting a peaceful settlement of issues between the parties.
In another sign of support for Taiwan, the island’s de facto ambassador to Washington, Hsiao Bi-khim, was an invited guest at Biden’s inauguration.
And in a final sweep against China, the Trump administration’s outgoing UN ambassador tweeted that it was time for the world to oppose China’s efforts to exclude and isolate Taiwan, with strong criticism from Beijing.
Ambassador Kelly Craft followed the tweet with a photo of herself in the UN General Assembly Hall where the island is banned. She was carrying a handbag with a stuffed Taiwanese bear protruding from the top, a gift from Taiwan’s representative in New York, Ambassador James Lee.
Taiwan and China separated in the civil war in 1949 and China says it is determined to bring the island under its control if necessary. The United States exchanged diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, but is legally obliged to ensure that Taiwan can defend itself and the autonomous democratic island has strong bipartisan support in Washington.
Tsai has sought to strengthen the island’s defense by purchasing billions of dollars in US weapons, including upgraded F-16 fighter jets, armed drones, rocket systems and Harpoon missiles that can hit both ships and land targets. She has also increased support for Taiwan’s domestic arms industry, including launching a program to build new submarines to counter China’s ever-growing naval capacity.
China’s growing threat comes when economic and political lures bear some fruit, leading to war games arranging and sending fighter jets and reconnaissance planes almost daily to the island of 24 million people, located 160 kilometers off China’s southeast coast across the Taiwan Strait.