20211012_IBT_Taiwan_Airspace Number of Chinese military aircraft entering Taiwan's air defense identification zone. Photo: Statista/IBT

Fifty six Chinese warplanes flew into Taiwan's Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) on Oct 4, the largest incursion since the island first started reporting such activity in September 2020. The aircraft involved were 38 J-16 fighter jets, twelve H-6K bombers, two Y-8 anti-submarine aircraft and two KJ-500 warning and control aircraft, among others. Taiwan's Ministry of Defense stated that it used its own fighter jets and missile systems to monitor the Chinese activity with radio warnings issued.

Such incidents are hardly rare and Chinese warplanes have been known to cross the sensitive median line unofficially separating the airspace of the island and the mainland. What makes Monday's incident notable is the sheer number of Peoples Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) aircraft involved. The scale and frequency of Chinese aerial activity has grown since the beginning of 2021. October has so far been a particularly busy month with the first of the month seeing 38 and Oct 2 seeing 39 incursions, respectively.

Chinese aerial activity in Taiwan's ADIZ remained subdued between May and July, except for a spike in June, and has been picking up since August. The beginning of the year had seen more consistent, though relatively small scale activity, especially in January and April.

All of this activity has heightened fears of a military clash. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen was quoted at Sunday's National Day celebrations saying she would do the utmost to defend the island's way of life. China considers Taiwan a rogue province that will inevitable be reunified and it has reserved its right to use all measures to achieve that goal including the use of military force. Invasion was once viewed as unlikely but Beijing has continued to build up its capabilities to carry out such an operation. On top of building new aircraft carriers, landing ships and other naval vessels, it has continued to modernize the rest of its military, also introducing state-of-the-art indigenous weapons systems such as the J-20 stealth fighter jet.