Taiwan scrambles fighter jets as China carrier enters air defense zone

China's Liaoning aircraft carrier fleet crossed into Taiwan's air defense zone, prompting Taiwan to deploy fighter jets

Squadron of Taiwanese IDF jets (Photo from @MilitarySpokesman FB page)

Taipei (Taiwan News) -- China's sole operational aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, and its escort ships crossed into Taiwan's air defense identification zone (ADIZ) on Wednesday, prompting Taiwan to scramble its fighter jets.

At 7 a.m. on Wednesday morning, China's Soviet-built Liaoning aircraft carrier entered Taiwan's ADIZ in the southwest, according to Taiwan's defense ministry. In response, Taiwan scrambled Ching-kuo Indigenous Defense Fighter (IDF) jets, F-16s, and P-3C surveillance aircraft to "surveil and control" the passage of the Chinese fleet through the strait, Taiwanese defense ministry spokesman Major General Chen Chung-chi (陳中吉) said.

By noon, the Chinese carrier group had made its way past Shantou, Guangdong Province headed northwest. At 7 p.m. Wednesday evening, it had navigated past Meizhou Island off the coast of Fujian. The Chinese carrier group finally exited the Taiwan Strait at 6:30 a.m. this morning, according to a press release by the Ministry of National Defense.

The Liaoning, with its squadron of 15 Shenyang J-15 fighter jets and seven escort vessels, has been conducting naval exercises in the South China Sea.

Though the Chinese fleet had crossed the ADIZ, it had at no point entered into Taiwan's territorial waters. A high-ranking official was quoted in media reports as saying that the military was prepared to fire Hsiung Feng II and Hsiung Feng III missiles in successive waves at the carrier group if it had crossed the meridian line, thus encroaching on Taiwan's territorial waters. 

Presidential Office spokesperson Alex Huang said in Nicaragua Tuesday local time that the entire national security team was monitoring China's military movements and President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) had been briefed on the situation. Huang reassured the public that the situation is under control and the administration is fully prepared to respond to any threat.

Relations between the two nations have deteriorated since the election of independence-leaning President Tsai Ing-wen last year and her unprecedented phone call to President-elect Donald Trump in December.

China has been steadily ratcheting up pressure, discouraging Chinese tourists from visiting the island, intervening to prevent its participation in international forums, and saber rattling by holding air and naval exercises near and around Taiwan.