The Ministry of National Defense (MND) yesterday denied a news report saying that eight Chinese fighter aircraft had penetrated the airspace around the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) on June 29 and were within range of Taipei for 43 minutes.
The report, published yesterday in the Chinese-language Apple Daily, would, if confirmed, raise the severity of the incident, which was first reported by the Chinese-language United Daily News late last month.
The United Daily News claimed that two Chinese Sukhoi-27 aircraft chasing a US U-2 surveillance aircraft had briefly crossed the centerline over the Taiwan Strait, prompting Taipei to scramble F-16 aircraft to push the Chinese fighters back to their side of the line.
Later reports said that given the high altitude at which the U-2 operates, China was likely to have sent J-11s rather than Su-27s.
According to the Apple Daily report, the incident involved four waves of two fighters and included not only Su-27s, but also the more advanced Su-30. The article said that two Su-30s had penetrated the airspace surrounding the disputed Diaoyutais and were forced to turn back after being pursued by Taiwanese and Japanese aircraft.
The article said that for 43 minutes, Taipei was within range of the Su-30s.
Ministry spokesman David Lo (羅紹和) said the report was false and violated media ethics.
“The ministry protests and regrets the report by the Apple Daily, which seriously violated the ethics and integrity expected of a professional media service,” Lo said.
Using charts, Lo said only two Su-27s had crossed the centerline, adding that after consultation with nearby countries, the ministry was “absolutely certain” there were no Su-30s near Taiwan’s east cost.
There have been no other media reports that corroborate the claims made by the Apple Daily.
Defense experts have also told the Taipei Times it is extremely doubtful that China would have acted so brashly at a time when relations between Taipei and Beijing are at their best ever.
Air Force Command Reserves Training Section chief Wang Hsuan-chou (汪旋周) said the two Su-27s only crossed over the line for two minutes and compared the incident to out-of-bounds errors in basketball and soccer.
The brief time they spent over the line was normal, he said.
If the Chinese fighters wanted to taunt the Taiwanese, they would have headed straight for Taiwan proper, but they turned away after a short time, showing that it was an isolated chance incident, Wang said.
Taiwan’s air defenses are very rigid and well rounded and everyone follows standard operation procedures in dealing with any situation that arises, Wang said.
“There are no blind spots in Taiwan’s air defenses. It would never be allowed,” he said.
While media have the right and responsibility to be concerned about national defense, they have to double-check their facts when they encounter suspicious information, Wang said.
The ministry’s denials did not convince lawmakers.
“It was an unquestionable infringement of Taiwan’s sovereignty and a provocation. It is also a serious issue concerning our national security,” Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Tsai Huang-liang (蔡煌瑯) said.
For all intents and purposes, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) has turned Taiwan’s airspace into its own, Tsai said, adding that if Chinese fighters crossed the centerline over the Taiwan Strait at will and flew beyond Hualien, the effectiveness of the US-Japan Security Treaty would come into question.