China ramped up its pressure on democratic Taiwan over the weekend, with an unusually large number of fighter jets approaching the island in a "test" for the new administration of US President Joe Biden.
On Sunday, 12 Chinese fighter jets entered Taiwan’s air defence identification zone, along with a reconnaissance aircraft and two anti-submarine aircraft, Taiwan’s defence ministry said.
A day earlier, China sent eight bomber planes capable of carrying nuclear weapons and four fighter jets to the same area to the southwest of the island, as well as one reconnaissance aircraft.
Watch: U.S. military 'flexing' won't help: China
On both occasions, Taiwan sent up aircraft, issued radio warnings to the Chinese aircraft, and deployed air defence missile systems to monitor their activity.
Beijing claims self-governing Taiwan as part of its territory, and has been angered by a show of increased US support for Taiwan during Donald Trump’s administration.
In recent months, China has carried out frequent, at times daily, incursions aimed at pressuring President Tsai Ing-wen’s government to accept Beijing’s demand that it recognise Taiwan as part of China.
These incursions have usually consisted of just one or two reconnaissance planes in recent weeks, rather than the warplanes seen over the weekend.
“Beijing’s early signalling to the Biden administration is clearly focused on Taiwan,” said Michael Mazza, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute think tank. As well as the weekend incursions, Beijing also announced sanctions on former Trump administration officials during President Biden’s inauguration.
“The Biden administration appears to be correctly viewing these early moves as tests,” said Mr Mazza. “Statements in response to both the sanctions and the (People’s Liberation Army) flights indicate bipartisan support for a resolute approach to China, continuity of comfort with an at-times confrontational relationship, and strong support for allies and partners. Expect more turbulence ahead.”
Watch: China-Taiwan tensions rise in Biden's first days
On Saturday, the new US administration urged China to stop pressuring Taiwan, and said it would “(deepen) our ties with democratic Taiwan”.
“Our commitment to Taiwan is rock-solid and contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and within the region,” Ned Price, US State Department spokesman, said in a statement.
Derek J. Grossman, a senior defence analyst at the US-based RAND Corporation, said that he expected the Biden administration to continue its “strong support” of Taiwan in the future.
“The Biden team has also, perhaps unexpectedly, been quite forward-leaning on upholding U.S.-Taiwan ties even at the risk of upsetting the opportunity for a US-China reset,” Mr Grossman said. For example, the new administration invited Taiwan’s representative in the U.S. to attend the inauguration for the first time since the U.S. broke off official relations with Taiwan in favour of Beijing in 1979.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry thanked the US for its support “in the face of Beijing’s ongoing coercion”.