Ten Chinese military aircraft including fighter jets have entered Taiwan’s air defence identification zone as Palau’s president visited the Beijing-claimed island accompanied, unusually, by the US ambassador to the Pacific country.
Taiwan’s air force has repeatedly scrambled to intercept Chinese aircraft in recent months, including 20 on Friday, as the mainland seeks to assert its sovereignty and warn the United States to cease its support for the democratic island.
The 10 Chinese aircraft consisted of eight fighters and two surveillance planes, the latter of which flew around southern Taiwan and into the Pacific, according to Taiwan’s defence ministry, adding its air force scrambled to warn them away.
The defence ministry’s announcement came less than half an hour after Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr, whose country is one of only 15 to maintain formal ties with Taiwan, spoke to reporters about Chinese pressure against his island.
Whipps said nobody could dictate who his Pacific country of fewer than 20,000 people was friends with, recalling China’s decision in 2017 to effectively ban tour groups, branding it an illegal destination due to its lack of diplomatic status.
“I said if you’re in a relationship, I use this example, you don’t beat your wife to make them love you,” he said.
“I’ve been told that the opportunities, that the sky’s the limit,” Whipps added, referring to China.
“But, you know, we have to base our relationships on trust and what’s happened in the past.”
Whipps, who took office in January, is being accompanied by the US ambassador to Palau, John Hennessey-Niland, in a strong show of US support for countries, particularly in the Pacific, to stick with Taiwan.
The US, like most countries, has no diplomatic relations with Taiwan and China’s foreign ministry earlier on Monday criticised the ambassador’s appearance in Taipei, urging the US to stop official contacts with Taiwan.
Whipps said the ambassador – who did not take questions from reporters – was there to demonstrate a shared commitment to democracy and freedom in the region.
“As a small nation we can easily be infiltrated and we depend on our partners to protect us and give us security,” Whipps said.
The Pacific is the site of a growing diplomatic tug-of-war between China and the US, which has watched with concern efforts by officials in Beijing to snatch away Taiwan’s allies.
In 2019, China took two of Taiwan’s friends there, Kiribati and the Solomon Islands.
Nauru, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands have, like Palau, stuck with Taipei.
China has not commented on its recent air force activities near Taiwan.