Chinese warplanes make most median line crossings in 30 years (update)

10/07/2020 10:07 PM
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An F-16 fighter jet of Taiwan
An F-16 fighter jet of Taiwan's Air Force (front) flies next to a Chinese bomber in February. Photo courtesy of the Ministry of National Defense

Taipei, Oct. 7 (CNA) China has conducted 49 military aircraft sorties across the Taiwan Strait median line this year, the highest number in any year since 1990, Taiwan's defense minister said Wednesday.

The People's Liberation Army (PLA) has conducted 1,710 military aircraft sorties and 1,029 military vessel sorties into Taiwan's air defense identification zone (ADIZ) this year, Yen De-fa (嚴德發) said during a briefing at a legislative session.

Of the 1,710 sorties by PLA aircraft, 219 were into Taiwan's southwest ADIZ while 49 crossed the median line of the strait, the most since 1990, Yen elaborated.

In response, Taiwan's armed forces have conducted nearly 3,000 military aircraft sorties to intercept and monitor the Chinese aircraft and vessels, Yen said.

However, the minister did not disclose how many Taiwan naval vessels were deployed to intercept their Chinese counterparts, saying only that so far NT$5.7 billion has been spent dispatching vessels to monitor Chinese intruders this year, NT$1.20 billion more than the same period of last year.

According to Ministry of National Defense statistics, the maneuvers have cost the military NT$31.2 billion (US$1.09 billion) so far this year, amounting to 8.7 percent of the annual defense budget.

The ministry has said it will conduct periodic reviews to determine whether supplemental funding is needed.

Currently, the defense budget has been sufficient to meet the increase in PLA maneuvers near Taiwan's waters and air space, but the ministry will increase spending on Air Force maintenance and fuel costs next year, Yen said.

The median line is thought to have been established by the U.S. in the 1950s to prevent further conflicts between the Communists in China and Nationalists in Taiwan following the Chinese Civil War.

China has never openly recognized the median line, but its military assets rarely violated it until recent months as the U.S. and Taiwan discussed closer military and political engagement.

During Wednesday's hearing, Yen also said that the military is considering increasing the frequency that reservists are called up to improve the combat readiness of the country's reserve forces.

Under an initial proposal, reservist call-ups would take place every year for two weeks rather than as now every two years for five to seven days training, Yen said.

The government is also expected to establish a special agency under the Cabinet in charge of defense mobilization and increase the number of military reserve brigades from 7 to 12 in the near future.

These changes are part of Ministry of National Defense measures to ensure Taiwan's military reserves are a more reliable backup for regular forces in protecting the country, according to the minister.

(By Matt Yu and Joseph Yeh)

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