China Sends Record Number of Warplanes Across Taiwan Strait

A screen grab captured from a video shows the Chinese People's Liberation Army's Eastern Theater Command launching large-scale joint military exercises around Taiwan with naval vessels and military aircraft in China on May 24, 2024.

A record number of Chinese warplanes crossed a U.S.-drawn boundary line in the Taiwan Strait on Thursday, a move that coincides with the potential upcoming visit of Taiwan’s new president to the United States.

As of early Thursday, 56 Chinese aircraft crossed the so-called median line, according to the Taiwanese Ministry of National Defense, which posted the information on the social media platform X.

Taiwan’s military responded to the sortie with aircraft, naval vessels, and missile systems, although it declined to elaborate on the specifics of its response.

Taiwanese Foreign Minister Lin Chia-lung revealed on Wednesday that President Lai Ching-te is considering a route that would include a stopover in the U.S. while on a potential visit to countries with ties to Taiwan, according to the semi-official Central News Agency in Taipei. Lin added that the details of the trip are still being finalized.

Last year, China responded to a similar U.S. stopover by Lai’s predecessor, Tsai Ing-wen, by staging large military exercises. Tsai’s meeting with then-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy enraged Beijing, which opposes official contact between Taiwan and countries it has ties with.

China has escalated its pressure campaign since Lai, who Beijing accuses of pursuing Taiwanese independence, won the election in January. These efforts have included major military drills shortly after he assumed office in May, the withdrawal of support for one of Taiwan’s few remaining diplomatic allies, and the expansion of a law targeting what China considers “separatists.”

China has declared its intent to bring the island nation of 23 million people under its control, resorting to force if necessary.

On July 2, China seized a Taiwanese fishing boat for the first time since 2007, citing the boat’s out-of-season fishing activities in Chinese waters. The two Taiwanese crew members remain in China, with China characterizing the incident as a routine law enforcement action. Taipei has urged Beijing to de-escalate the situation.

While Beijing has never formally recognized the median line established by the U.S. in 1954 during a period of cross-strait tensions, its military had previously respected the boundary for decades.

In recent years, the PLA has intensified its incursions across the line, effectively shrinking the buffer zone between the two sides and decreasing the time available for Taiwan’s smaller military to respond to any potential attack from China.

President Joe Biden has repeatedly stated that the U.S. would intervene to assist Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion. The U.S. has also increased its military aid to Taiwan in recent years in an effort to deter any potential attack.