TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — In response to recent reports that U.S. Air Force (USAF) spy planes have been flying directly over Taiwan, China is threatening to send its own warplanes to "defend sovereignty."
On Oct. 21, both Golf9 and Tokyo Radar reported that an RC-135W had flown over Taipei's airspace. Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense (MND) described the tweets as "fake news" based on "erroneous settings by inexperienced aviation enthusiasts."
Two days later, on Oct. 23, multiple aircraft spotters again alleged that a USAF Boeing RC-135W Rivet Joint electronic surveillance aircraft was flying over Taipei. An officer at the USAF's Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) that same day was cited by The War Zone as contradicting the MND's statement, saying the flight had taken place: "I can confirm that an RC 135W [sic] Rivet Joint aircraft did fly over the northern portion of Taiwan yesterday as part of a routine mission."
However, later that day the PACAF requested that The War Zone retract its report. The news site then cited Lieutenant Colonel Tony Wickman, PACAF director of public affairs, as saying, “We did not have any U.S. aircraft in that area on the date and time in question."
In response, China's state-run mouthpiece The Global Times on Oct. 24 ran an editorial by Editor in Chief Hu Xijin (胡錫進) claiming Wickman's retraction showed the U.S. and the "island of Taiwan realize the seriousness of such a flight." Hu then claimed that American military planes are "not allowed to fly over Taiwan."
He warned that if "concrete evidence" ever points to U.S. military aircraft having flown over Taiwan, the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) "would respond firmly with operations such as sending fighter jets into airspace over the island to defend our country's territorial sky."
Hu then claimed that if Chinese warplanes entered Taiwan's airspace, "the military structure in the Taiwan Straits [sic] would be reshaped," and he alleged that this would be "an important move toward reunification." He acknowledged the nearly daily flights by PLAAF aircraft into Taiwan's air defense identification zone (ADIZ) and boasted that they had created "unprecedentedly high pressure on DPP authorities, who are obviously extremely frightened."
This alleged "fear" has led the Taiwanese authorities to twice deny a U.S. military operation over the country, claimed Hu. The editor warned that if an American military aircraft flies over Taiwan, it would "severely infringe on China's territorial airspace," and described such an action as a "redline" that "can't be budged."
Hinting at a possible response to such a U.S. military flight, Hu wrote that China has a "series of plans that would punish the Taiwan authorities." Among these plans, Hu cited the dispatch of "PLA jets on missions over the island."
In the event that a USAF jet enters Taiwan's airspace, Hu asserted that the PLAAF would deploy its fighter jets to "drive away US aircraft and defend national sovereignty." Hu said he did not believe that Taiwanese forces would dare to take the first shot but that if "the DPP authorities are willing to take such a reckless gamble, they should know they will not be spared."
The editor of the Chinese outlet stated that recent exercises by the PLA in the Taiwan Strait and the deployment of DF-17 hypersonic missiles on China's southeast coast "are in preparation for an escalation in the cross-Straits situation." Hu pledged that China's people would witness their government and army "destroy 'Taiwan secession,'" force the Taiwanese authorities to "behave," and "turn a new page in cross-Straits reunification."
Alluding to China's massive military buildup in recent years, Hu wrote that "Times have changed" and bragged that the PLA's war preparations have "greatly squeezed the room the DPP has to seek secession." He then closed by claiming Taiwan's leaders already know that they are "standing at the edge of a cliff."