Two US spy aircraft were dispatched last week to closely follow a fleet of at least 10 Chinese warplanes as they flew close to Taiwan’s airspace, a Taiwanese official has revealed.
The encounter took place on December 10, when the US Air Force flew a Boeing RC-135 spy plane, and the US a Lockheed EP-3 reconnaissance plane to monitor the Chinese aircraft, a spokesman for the Taiwanese Ministry of National Defense told the United Daily News on Monday.
According to the official, a RQ-4 Global Hawk drone also took part in the operation by flying over the Chinese warplanes and observing the overall situation from high altitudes.
A US Navy Lockheed Martin EP-3 spy plane (file photo)
The situation escalated when Japan joined in by scrambling two F-15 Eagle fighter jets to intercept the Chinese warplanes.
The Chinese pilots were flying around Taiwan in an exercise mission and alerted the Japanese by passing through the Miyako Strait, the southern extent of Japan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ).
The Chinese jets then circled Taiwan’s ADIZ before leaving the area and heading back to China, the official said.
Controversy heightened later on when the Chinese Air Force released a picture (below) showing one of its Xian H-6K nuclear-capable bombers flying over the clouds with Taiwan’s highest peak, Yushan, in the background.
However, Taiwanese officials said the air defense identification zone was not breached, noting that Yushan is located about 200 kilometers inside the zone and the Chinese aircraft had to fly a long way to be able to picture them.
This was the third time over the past month that Chinese jets were flying close to Taiwan.
The development came as tensions were running high between the United States and China over US President-elect Donald Trump’s conversation with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.
Beijing said Trump’s move was against the so-called ‘One China’ principle, which views Taiwan as a part of China.
Trump did not take the criticism very well and in response questioned the need for Washington’s commitment to the policy, which has been adopted by the US since the end of 1970s.
Washington and Beijing have also been engaged in a military standoff in the South China Sea, where a Chinese warship seized an American underwater drone on Thursday.