China dispatched at least 56 fighter jets into Taiwan's air defense zone on Monday, the island territory claimed, as it scrambled its own air force for the fourth straight day to ward off the intruding aircraft.
Self-governed Taiwan, which China claims as its own, has objected to Beijing's overflights for more than a year. But since Friday, when China celebrated its national day, it has dramatically ramped up the number of flights, often in the southwestern part of the Taiwanese air defense zone close to Taiwan-controlled Pratas Island, as was the case on Monday.
Monday's mission included 34 J-16 fighters and 12 nuclear-capable H-6 bombers, Taiwan said. Monday night, authorities in Taipei reported that they had seen four more Chinese J-16 fighters over their airspace.
The news was met with sharp words Monday from the White House.
"We urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic and economic pressure and coercion against Taiwan, and we have an abiding interest in peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait," said White House press secretary Jen Psaki. "Our commitment to Taiwan is rock-solid and contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and within the region."
Psaki said the administration has "been clear privately and publicly about our concern." But in response to a question from VOA, she said President Joe Biden had not spoken recently to his Chinese counterpart, but that "high-level" officials from Washington were in touch with Beijing.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying fired back Monday at the U.S. statements.
"Taiwan belongs to China, and the U.S. is in no position to make irresponsible remarks," she said. "The relevant remarks by the U.S. side seriously violate the one-China principle and the stipulations of the three China-U.S. joint communiqués, and send an extremely wrong and irresponsible signal."
The U.S. has maintained a strong cultural, commercial and unofficial relationship with Taiwan after Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979, and last year sent $5.1 billion in military aid to the Taipei government.
The U.S. Defense Department has warned against the Chinese flights into Taiwan's air defense zone, saying Monday the military activities were "destabilizing and increase the risk of miscalculation."
"Our commitment to Taiwan is rock-solid and contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and within the region," the Pentagon added.
China has yet to comment on its latest military operations near Taiwan. It has previously said such flights were to protect its sovereignty and aimed against "collusion" between Taiwan and the United States, the island's most important international supporter and arms supplier.
The island territory has described China's activities as "gray zone" warfare, possibly aimed at wearing down Taiwanese forces and to test their abilities to respond.
While claiming Taiwan as part of its territory, the Chinese Communist Party has never governed the democratic island of about 24 million people. But Chinese President Xi Jinping has refused to rule out military force to capture Taiwan if necessary.
Ken Bredemeier and Anita Powell contributed to this report.Some material in this report came from Reuters.