At least six Chinese SU-35 fighter jets operate near island, the first of its kind to be conducted since Taiwan split with mainland China in 1949
American lawmakers have made a trip to Taiwan and the US state department said Beijing was conducting a “combat readiness” patrol around the island.
The trip, the first since President Donald Trump took office, saw a bipartisan delegation from both chambers of Congress visit Taiwan and attended an independence flag raising ceremony at the presidential office.
President Tsai Ing-wen holds her Independence Flag after the flag-raising ceremony. Photograph: Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images
A State Department official confirmed that at least six Chinese SU-35 fighter jets, outfitted with more powerful air-to-air missiles, flew near Taiwan on Thursday during the maneuvers, which were closely monitored by Chinese civil aviation authorities.
The official said there was no direct influence from the Chinese government and the purpose of the exercise was not “known”.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the pilots flew within three miles of the island, or within a range of about 40 miles, in what appeared to be a “non-threatening” exercise, which is routinely carried out by Beijing. China routinely conducts such flight operations throughout the Western Pacific to check on Taiwanese military capability.
The officials emphasised that the flight was not considered aggressive and that the US embassy in Taipei did not receive any official notice.
“Our embassy is aware of the Chinese flight,” the official said. “The purpose of the flight was not known to us at the time of their departure and we are aware that China was looking to identify the aircraft and record their position for a long-term record of the situation.”
Taiwanese foreign ministry spokeswoman Ren Hsiao-yueh called the flight “an open and blatant provocation by the Chinese mainland” and said the exercises posed a threat to regional peace and stability.
“We also hope that China shows restraint, listens to international opinion and wisely acts in a manner that does not disturb the stability of Taiwan and the region,” she said.
Beijing claims sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan, which it sees as a renegade province to be taken back by force if necessary.
The US, which has no diplomatic ties with Beijing but is bound by arms sales and military co-operation agreements to provide assistance to Taiwan, has avoided directly criticising China over its escalating military movements near the island.
On Thursday, representatives from the House, the Senate and the state department held talks with government officials on a range of regional security issues, including its relations with China, North Korea and the South China Sea.
“This week’s trip confirms that there is no question in the halls of the Capitol whether our support for Taiwan is bipartisan,” said US Representative John Garamendi, a Democrat from California.
Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, said the visit would help improve the ability of the administration to deal with China on Taiwan and on other issues.
“We were able to encourage President Tsai and Foreign Minister Wang Yi to have direct and open dialogue to continue our economic trade, investment and trade in energy between the United States and Taiwan,” he said.
Beijing has bristled at Trump’s support for Tsai, calling it “extremely irresponsible”. It has warned it would take counter-measures if the US moves to formalise formal relations with the island, which it regards as a breakaway province.
Tsai has said she hopes to maintain the status quo and that she wants peaceful relations with China but has refused to accept its “one China” position.