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China flies 25 fighter jets after incursion by British warship

A Chinese H-6 bomber (bottom) flying over the Bashi Channel near Chinese Taipei as an F-16 (top) approaches. (By AFP)

China has flown 25 fighter jets over Taipei’s airspace after Britain sent a warship through the Taiwan Strait in a move aimed at challenging Beijing's claim to the strategic waterway.

The Chinese Taipei’s defense ministry said on Friday that China had sent 22 fighters, two nuclear-capable bombers and one anti-submarine aircraft into the self-ruled island's southwest Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ).

The first batch of Chinese aircraft flew in an area close to the Taipei-controlled Pratas Islands, with the two bombers flying closest to the atoll, according to a map issued by the ministry.

The second group flew down into the Bashi Channel that separates Chinese Taipei from the Philippines, a key waterway that links the Pacific with the disputed South China Sea.

The ministry described the show of force as “incursion” and said Taipei had scrambled combat aircraft to counter the move, which happened on the same day that Beijing marked the founding of the People's Republic of China.

The incident — the biggest since 28 jets flew into the zone on June 15 — came after Britain sent the HMS Richmond through the Taiwan Strait on Monday, a move that challenged Beijing's claim to the sensitive waterway and marked a rare voyage by a non-US military vessel.

The Chinese People's Liberation Army censured the voyage, the first time since 2008, accusing Britain of acting out of "evil intentions to sabotage peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”

China considers Chinese Taipei a breakaway province that should be reunited with the mainland.

US warships periodically carry out provocative voyages through the strait, drawing responses from China that asserts sovereignty over the self-ruled island. 

Under the “One China” policy, almost all world countries recognize that sovereignty. The US, too, recognizes Chinese sovereignty but has long courted Taipei in an attempt to unnerve Beijing.

While US warships pass through the strait on an almost monthly basis, despite Chinese opposition, the United States’ allies have generally been reluctant to follow suit.

China has already sent a stern warning to the UK against deploying warships to the disputed South China Sea.

The US and its allies side with Beijing’s rival claimants in maritime disputes in the South China Sea, while China has always warned the US against military activities in the sea.

Beijing says potential close military encounters between the air and naval forces of the two countries in the region may cause accidents.

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