By Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee
TAIPEI (Reuters) – China sent more fighter jets to Taiwan’s air defense zone on Wednesday in an intensified show of force around the island that Beijing claims to be its own, and Taiwan’s foreign minister said it would fight until final if China attacks.
The democratic self-governing island has complained of repeated military activities by Beijing in recent months, with China’s air force making almost daily forays into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. On Monday, China said a group of aircraft carriers was exercising near the island.
Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said 15 Chinese aircraft, including 12 fighters, entered its air defense identification zone, with one anti-submarine aircraft flying south through the Bashi Canal between Taiwan and the Philippines.
The Taiwanese air force sent planes to intercept and warn the Chinese to move away, the ministry added.
Speaking earlier in the day, Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said the United States was concerned about the risk of conflict.
“From my limited understanding of US decision-makers watching developments in this region, they clearly see the danger of the possibility that China will launch an attack on Taiwan,” he told reporters at his ministry.
“We are willing to defend ourselves without question and we will fight the war if we need to fight the war. And if we need to defend ourselves until the last day, we will defend ourselves until the last day.”
China’s Taiwan Affairs Office and the US State Department did not respond to requests for comment on Wu’s remarks. China has said that its activities in Taiwan are aimed at protecting China’s sovereignty. The United States has expressed concern about China’s moves, saying its engagement with Taiwan is “rock solid.”
In addition to intensifying military action near Taiwan, the US Navy said the guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain made a “routine” transit through the Taiwan Straits on Wednesday.
Neither Taiwan nor China have said precisely where the Chinese carrier group is, or if it is heading towards the disputed South China Sea, where a US carrier group currently operates.
Speaking in parliament, Taiwan’s Deputy Defense Minister Chang Che-ping said the movements of the Chinese airline were being closely followed and described its drills as routine.
A person familiar with Taiwan’s security plans told Reuters that the carrier group is still “close to the Japanese islands,” although it declined to reveal the exact location.
Japan had said on Sunday that the Chinese carrier group had entered the Pacific after sailing through the Miyako Strait, through the Ryukyu island chain from southern Japan to northeast Taiwan.
Washington, Taiwan’s largest international arms sponsor and supplier, has been pressuring Taipei to modernize its military so that it can become a “porcupine,” difficult for China to attack.
Wu said Taiwan is determined to improve its military capabilities and spend more on defense.
“Defending Taiwan is our responsibility. We will try our best to improve our defense capabilities.”
Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said it will run eight days of computer-assisted war games this month, simulating a Chinese attack. A second phase of exercises, including live-fire drills and anti-landing drills, will take place in July, when hospitals will also practice mass casualty management.
“The drills are designed based on the toughest enemy threats, simulating all possible scenarios of an enemy invasion in Taiwan,” Major General Liu Yu-Ping told reporters.
When asked whether Washington’s de facto embassy, the American Institute in Taiwan, would send representatives to the drills, Liu said such a plan was “discussed” but “will not be implemented,” citing military sensitivity.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee; Additional reporting by Roger Tung; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Peter Graff)