Chinese Military Jets Fly Near Taiwan As U.S. Distracted By Ukraine

While the U.S. is distracted with trying to avert a war between Russia and Ukraine, China is ramping up its aggression towards Taiwan, flying 39 warplanes into the island's air defense identification zone (ADIZ) on Sunday night.

The Chinese sortie included 24 J-16 fighter jets, 10 J-10 fighter jets, two Y-9 transport aircraft, two Y-8 anti-submarine warning aircraft, and one nuclear-capable H-6 bomber, Taiwan's Defense Ministry said in a statement on Sunday. It was the largest convoy of aircraft China had sent towards the island this year.

The statement said that Taiwan scrambled its own military aircraft in response to monitor the sortie's activities and the Taiwanese Air Force tracked the People's Liberation Army planes on its radar.

The Chinese aircraft flew to the northeast of the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Island, according to flight paths Taiwanese defense ministry officials posted online.

The Chinese formation comes at a time when the U.S. Navy has three aircraft carrier strike groups close to Taiwan: the USS Carl Vinson and USS Abraham Lincoln strike groups in the Philippine Sea and the USS Ronald Reagan strike group in Yokosuka, Japan. The Philippine Sea lies east of Taiwan, between the self-ruled island and the U.S. territories of Guam and the Mariana Islands.

The USS Essex Amphibious Ready Group and the USS America Expeditionary Strike Group joined the Carl Vinson and Abraham Lincoln for a joint exercise Saturday. The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force's Hyuga-class helicopter destroyer JS Hyuga also took part in the drill. They engaged in anti-submarine, air and combat readiness operations, in partnership with Japan's navy.

"Freedom at its finest! Nothing reaffirms our commitment to a #FreeandOpenIndoPacific like 2 Carrier Strike Groups, 2 Amphibious Ready Groups sailing alongside our close friends from the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force," tweeted Vice Adm. Karl Thomas, commander of the US 7th Fleet, which is based in Japan.

Although Taiwan and China split and have been separately governed since the 1949 civil war, the former claims the island as its own territory. Beijing has not ruled out using military force to achieve its ambitions with Taiwan, but the U.S. continues to support Taiwan's autonomy, providing it with state-of-the-art weapons and military training.

Tensions in the region have been particularly high over the last year and half, as China has been flying sorties of aircraft towards Taiwan almost every day. The largest sortie comprised 56 military jets on one day on October 4 last year.

However, no shots have been fired and the Chinese aircraft have not been flying in Taiwan's air space. Taiwan's ADIZ covers a broader area that the country monitors and patrols to give it more time to respond to military threats.

Newsweek has contacted the Pentagon and the Chinese Foreign Ministry for comment.

In a blow to President Joe Biden, a survey revealed on January 20 that Taiwan has faith in the U.S. but does not trust the commander-in-chief. Across all ages, 58.8 percent of those surveyed believed the U.S. was likely to support Taipei militarily in the event of a conflict across the Taiwan Strait, the poll found. But 57.7 percent of respondents said they didn't trust Biden, compared to 33.7 percent who did.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is trying to avoid a Russian invasion of Ukraine, after an estimated 100,000 Russian troops have built up along the eastern border, sparking fears of a conflict in Europe.

On Saturday, 90 tonnes of US "lethal aid" including ammunition for "front-line defenders" arrived in Ukraine.

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken warned Russia against invading Ukraine on Sunday.

China fighter jets
This photo taken on April 24, 2018 shows J15 fighter jets on a Chinese aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, during a drill at sea. China is ramping up its aggression towards Taiwan, flying 39 warplanes into the island's air defense identification zone (ADIZ), on Sunday night. - / Contributor/AFP via Getty Images