When 28 Chinese warplanes streaked through the skies around Taiwan on Tuesday – the largest such incursion this year – they followed a pattern that has generated alarm among U.S. and Taiwanese military planners.
Some of the People’s Liberation Army planes, including bombers, fighter jets and surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft, flew east from the Chinese coast around the southern tip of Taiwan. The rest broke off and briefly darted further south toward tiny Pratas Island in the South China Sea before turning back.
The PLA has flown close to the atoll – uninhabited except for a garrison of Taiwanese marines and coast guard officers – once a week on average since Sept. 16, when the Taiwanese Defense Ministry began releasing detailed data. If all incursions into Taiwan’s air-defense-identification zone between Pratas and the Chinese mainland are included, the patrols have become an almost daily occurrence.