China Targets Taiwan, U.S. As 36 Warplanes Buzz Island in 72 Hours

China has dispatched 36 military planes into the defensive airspace around southern Taiwan this week in pointed maneuvers targeting its democratic government and its staunchest international backer, the United States.

The frequent "gray zone" coercion involving People's Liberation Army assets was unusually absent for about 10 days before a large fleet of 28 aircraft flew into Taiwan's air defense identification zone (ADIZ) on Tuesday.

The following day, Taiwan's air force detected a single Chinese Y-8 anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft near the island. Taipei then scrambled interceptors and deployed surface-to-air missiles when seven more PLA warplanes returned on Thursday.

The appearance of three dozen military aircraft in 72 hours was a clear sign that Beijing's military coercion had not stopped despite the period of relative quiet. Tuesday's figure of 28 also set a record for most sorties into Taiwan's ADIZ in a single day since its Defense Ministry began publicly announcing the breaches last September.

Analysts in Taipei said the Chinese government may have been responding to statements from President Joe Biden's tour of Europe. In particular, Beijing was likely irked by the G7, which rapped it multiple times on human rights and security issues.

In their communique, the G7 leaders—likely led by Biden and Japan's Yoshihide Suga—underscored the "importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait," apparently striking a nerve by mentioning a topic of utmost sensitivity to China.

Communist Party newspaper Global Times appeared to confirm this on Wednesday, when it said the PLA warplane activity "sent a strong signal to the Taiwan secessionists and their Western supporters following recent provocations."

The U.S. Navy's Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group had also sailed through the Bashi Channel south of Taiwan on Monday before entering the South China Sea, said China's state-owned tabloid, which claimed the carrier was "flexing its muscle and provocatively creating instability near China."

The paper noted that Tuesday's full complement of four nuclear-capable H-6 bombers, 24 fighter jets, as well as two Y-8s of the ASW and electronic warfare (EW) variants flew over USS Ronald Reagan's previous position.

It hinted at a strategic training maneuver to attack the U.S. Navy warships, similar to one which analysts said took place on April 12, when 25 PLA planes intruded in the ADIZ—a single-day record at the time—while the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group was nearby.

The Global Times article also called back to the high-profile visit to Taipei by three U.S. senators on June 6. It said Tuesday's operation was the first large-scale PLA response since Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dan Sullivan (R-AK) and Chris Coons (D-DE) landed in Taiwan on the back of a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III.

7 PLA aircraft (Y-8 EW, J-16*2 and J-7*4) entered #Taiwan’s southwest ADIZ in the morning of June. 17, 2021. Please check our official website for more information: https://t.co/gND0uoX3ai pic.twitter.com/E3ndmNh1sd

— 國防部 Ministry of National Defense, R.O.C. 🇹🇼 (@MoNDefense) June 17, 2021

Thursday's seven PLA sorties into Taiwan's defensive airspace involved four of the PLA's J-7 fighter aircraft. This marks the first reported sighting of this type of aircraft in the 10 months of recent ADIZ records.

China modeled its J-7s after Soviet-era MiG-21s. Production began in 1966, with the first ones put into service the following year.

Security analyst Su Tzu-yun told Taiwan's government-funded Central News Agency that the older J-7s were likely part of an operational test. Data from Taiwan's Defense Ministry showed the J-7s were accompanied by two newer J-16s and one Y-8 EW.

The Chinese military may have been assessing whether the Y-8's signal jamming capabilities would affect communications between newer- and older-generation warplanes, said Su, who is a researcher at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research in Taipei.

On Wednesday, China's Foreign Ministry lashed out at Biden following the release of a U.S.-EU joint statement that gave Beijing its third firm rebuke from the U.S. president and European leaders in as many days.

Biden's eight-day tour of Europe, which involved summits with the G7, NATO and EU, concluded with a closely watched sit-down with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Switzerland.

China Warplanes Buzz Taiwan In Their Dozens
A People's Liberation Army Chengdu J-7 fighter aircraft. Four J-7s were among a fleet of seven warplanes to intrude into Taiwan's air defense identification zone on June 17, 2021. Taiwan Ministry of National Defense