A Taiwan air force radio operator attempting to warn off an intruding People’s Liberation Army aircraft was told “this is all Chinese airspace” as four warplanes buzzed Taipei’s defense radars on Tuesday.
In the brief exchange between 5:19 p.m. and 5:21 p.m. local time, a radio officer with Taiwan’s Air Combat Command said in a standard warning: “This is the Republic of China Air Force. The Chinese military aircraft currently flying at 6,600 meters in Taiwan’s southwestern airspace, you have entered our airspace and are affecting aviation safety. Turn around and leave immediately.”
The response is partially scrambled, but a PLA pilot retorted: “This is all Chinese airspace.”
The correspondence happened over the aeronautical emergency frequency 121.5 MHz and was recorded using software-defined radio, according to the moderator of flight-tracking Facebook page “Southwest Airspace of TW.”
The administrator shared a similar incident last week, when a Chinese pilot, replying to Taiwan air force warnings, said of the self-ruled island’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ): “This is all ours.“
The page moderator, who did not wish to be named, told Newsweek that the Taiwanese air force issued 10 radio warnings to Chinese military aircraft in the island’s ADIZ on Wednesday. The warnings began at 4:29 a.m.—the earliest on record this year—and continued until 1:58 p.m. Taipei time.
Taiwan’s defense ministry later revealed that 15 PLA warplanes had flown sorties into the southwest ADIZ. The fleet, which came at different hours, included 12 fighter jets, one anti-submarine plane and two early warning and control aircraft.
Taiwan scrambled its own fighter jets to intercept, the ministry said on its website.
However, Taipei did not log the movements of a U.S. Navy EP-3 that was reported in the vicinity around the same time as the Chinese warplanes.
According to the South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative (SCSPI)— a Peking University think tank—the American reconnaissance plane transited the Bashi Channel south of Taiwan at just after 3 a.m. local time before flying in a circular pattern south of the Taiwan Strait.
SCSPI, which tracks U.S. military movements in the East and South China seas, described it as a “rare flight path in rare time,” apparently referring to the earliness of the overflight.
Wednesday’s PLA flights into Taiwan’s ADIZ marks the fifth day such activity has occurred in April and the 67th day this year. Together with Monday’s 10 military aircraft, China has now flown 29 sorties around Taiwan in the past three days.
Analysts say PLA warplane incursions into the ADIZ, which are increasing in frequency and quantity, are part of Beijing’s “gray-zone” warfare against Taiwan, which the Chinese government claims is part of its territory.
China plans to tax Taiwan’s meager air force with the routine flights while intimidating the island’s population into submission, according to some analysis, while others have noted the political messaging behind each Chinese military operation.
Earlier this year, defense officials in Taipei revealed the air force had flown 1,000 extra hours deterring PLA aircraft around the island, driving up fuel, maintenance and manpower costs.