Sep 19, 2020 - World

China flies at least 19 warplanes in Taiwan airspace

Keith Krach (top C), U.S. undersecretary of State, greeted by Taiwanese political delegates at Sungshan Arport in Taipei on Sept. 17

Keith Krach (top C), U.S. undersecretary of State, greeted by Taiwanese political delegates at Sungshan Arport in Taipei on Sept. 17. Photo: Pei Chen/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

China late Friday flew at least 19 fighter jets and bombers into Taiwan airspace — just ahead of a series of meetings between a senior American diplomat and leaders of the self-ruled island, according to the R.O.C Ministry of National Defense.

Why it matters: The Chinese military display during Undersecretary of State Keith Krach's visit, the highest-ranking State Department official to visit the island since the U.S. cut ties with Taipei in 1979, comes as a warning to Taiwan and the U.S. about their increasing political and military cooperation, the New York Times reports.

  • Taiwan's status is one of the most sensitive issues between the U.S. and China. Beijing considers the island part of Chinese territory, while the U.S. and Taiwan share a robust, though unofficial, relationship and have committed to assisting the island in maintaining its defensive capabilities.

Context: The State Department said earlier this week that Krach was traveling to the island to attend a memorial service former President Lee Teng-hui, who died in July, according to the Wall Street Journal.

  • The visit also came amid reports that the Trump administration plans to sell Taiwan $7 billion worth of weapons to bolster its defenses, the Financial Times and WSJ reported.
  • The deal, which includes cruise missiles, mines and drones, would be the second largest package of weapons provided to Taiwan by the U.S. following a $8 billion arms deal in 2019.

What they're saying: “Those who play with fire are bound to get burned,” Senior Col. Ren Guoqiang, a spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of National Defense, said at a briefing in Beijing, according to the NYT.

  • He added that the U.S. deepening its relationship with Taiwan amounts to what he called “collusion.”

The big picture: Beijing recently conducted large-scale aerial and maritime exercises southwest of Taiwan, characterizing the drills as "legitimate and necessary for the mainland to protect its sovereignty and integrity," the BBC reports.

Our thought bubble, via Axios' Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian: As the Trump administration moves toward closer ties with Taiwan, the Chinese government is signaling that it will meet each U.S. measure with a countermeasure of its own.

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