US President Joe Biden dispatched a delegation of former top US defense and security officials to Taiwan shortly after concluding his trip to Asia. The surprise visit, however, became an object of China’s fury with a swarm of PLAAF warplanes storming the region near the beleaguered island state.
The recently concluded visit to the region had one common agenda – China’s belligerence and its aggressive rise. In a surprise move, President Biden also announced his intention to fight China militarily if it were to launch an invasion of Taiwan.
Frustrated by the coordinated efforts of the US and its allies in the Indo-Pacific, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) dispatched 30 warplanes to the region near Taiwan as the US senator’s delegation paid a surprise visit to the island and at the same time the US Navy was conducting dual-carrier maneuvers in the vicinity, state media the Global Times reported.
The PLA practiced air superiority and aerial strikes in a simulation of reunification-by-force, sending a warning to what it perceives as the ‘US-Taiwan collusion’ that the PLA can launch a lightning-quick assault that would end the Taiwan question once and for all, if necessary.
Nine aircraft types, including the two most advanced fighters of Russian origin in its fleet, the Su-35s, entered the island’s air defense zone as part of the most extensive mainland patrol in about four months.
Only China uses the lethal Su-35 aircraft apart from the Russian Air Force. Earlier in January, it flew a record number of 39 warplanes into Taiwan’s legally-forbidden Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ).
Two KJ-500 early warning aircraft, four Y-8 electronic intelligence aircraft, a Y-8 electronic warfare aircraft, a Y-8 anti-submarine warfare aircraft, six J-16 fighter jets, eight J-11 fighter jets, four J-10 fighter jets, two Su-35 fighter jets, and two Su-30 fighter jets were among the 30 PLA warplanes that participated in the mission.
30 PLA aircrafts (KJ-500 AEW&C*2, Y-8 ELINT*4, Y-8 EW*1, Y-8 ASW*1, J-16*6, J-11*8, J-10*4, SU-35*2, and SU-30*2) entered #Taiwan’s southwest ADIZ on May 30, 2022. Please check our official website for more information: https://t.co/0lmMYSyNQr pic.twitter.com/OwUE8CXF5G
— 國防部 Ministry of National Defense, R.O.C. 🇹🇼 (@MoNDefense) May 30, 2022
According to Taiwan’s defense authority, the aircraft entered the self-proclaimed southwest air defense identification zone between the Dongsha Islands and Taiwan Island.
The deployment of cutting-edge aircraft like the Su-30 and Su-35 that China has acquired by Russia to threaten the US delegation is noteworthy. It comes a few days after the Chinese and Russian bombers flew together as part of their annual joint patrol- demonstrating undying bonhomie between the two partners even as a war rages in Ukraine.
The Chinese experts also indicated that the stealth fighters of both countries, the J-20 of PLAAF and Russia’s Su-57, could be deployed in the future for joint combat patrols, as reported by the EurAsian Times.
Further, the symbolism of sending the Russian-origin heavy fighters to Taiwan cannot be missed. Earlier, China had made sure to deploy fighter jets like J-16 as well as military choppers to take on the task of intrusion.
However, the presence of heavy Russian fighters, easily the most powerful warplanes in both Russia’s and China’s armory, points toward the aggressive mood of Beijing.
Tug of war for Taiwan
On the same day as the Chinese confrontational actions, Taiwanese media claimed that US Senator Tammy Duckworth and her group arrived on the island for a surprise three-day visit. Duckworth was expected to meet with Taiwan’s leader Tsai Ing-wen and others.
The PLAAF warplane activities came after two US aircraft carriers, the USS Abraham Lincoln and the USS Ronald Reagan, reportedly conducted drills in waters southeast of Okinawa on the weekend.
The strategic location, analysts say, will be a critical maritime battleground if the US militarily intervenes in a potential conflict across the Taiwan Strait.
*USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) and USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) conduct a vertical replenishment. https://t.co/LN9HpDwJrN
— John Currin (@nz16613) May 28, 2022
The majority of the warplanes deployed in the drills were fighter jets, while the rest included special-mission aircraft. According to a Beijing-based military expert who spoke on condition of anonymity to the Global Times, the PLA presumably practiced seizing air superiority from the island’s air force and the US carrier-borne aviation force.
According to the expert, some fighter jets, such as the J-11 and the Su-35, are pure air superiority fighters, while others, such as the J-16 and the Su-30, are more of a multi-role kind that can also launch strikes on ground and sea targets.
The special-mission aircraft may provide command and control, as well as intelligence and electronic warfare support, according to the expert.
China has recently upped the ante in the region significantly, taking a strong exception to any US support for Taipei. It has also been conducting military drills aimed at resisting any external interference from the US and its regional allies in the event of an invasion.
Earlier in May, when its aircraft carrier Liaoning started extensive drills in the western pacific, the PLA conducted a round of exercises where it encircled Taiwan – from the Philippine Sea to the east of Taiwan and from the South of Japan. Experts believe the total command of this location would mean no external power would be able to intervene against the Chinese of Taiwan.
China has vowed to merge Taiwan, by force if necessary, for the ultimate reunification with the mainland. With increased US support to Taiwan, it could be a matter of time before Beijing decides the breach the ‘median line’.