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China Sends Record Number of Warplanes Across Key Boundary Line With Taiwan

A screen grab captured from a video shows the Chinese People's Liberation Army's Eastern Theater Command launching large-scale joint military exercises around Taiwan with naval vessels and military aircraft in China on May 24, 2024.

China sent a record number of warplanes across a U.S.-drawn boundary in the Taiwan Strait—a move that comes as the new president of the archipelago mulls a trip that may include a stop in America.

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Some 56 planes crossed the so-called median line as of early Thursday, the Ministry of National Defense in Taipei said on the X social media site.

66 PLA aircraft and 7 PLAN vessels operating around Taiwan were detected up until 6 a.m. (UTC+8) today. 56 of the aircraft crossed the median line and entered Taiwan’s northern, southwestern and southeasten ADIZ.

— 國防部 Ministry of National Defense, R.O.C. 🇹🇼 (@MoNDefense) July 11, 2024

Taiwanese aircraft, naval vessels and missile systems were used “in response” to the sortie, the military added, without providing details on what that entailed.

Taiwan President Lai Ching-te was considering passing through the U.S. while potentially visiting nations that have ties with the archipelago, Foreign Minister Lin Chia-lung said Wednesday, according to the semi-official Central News Agency in Taipei. Details of the trip were still being planned, Lin added.

Read More: TIME’s Exclusive Interview With Taiwan President Lai Ching-te

Beijing reacted to a similar stop in the U.S. by Lai’s predecessor, Tsai Ing-wen, last year by holding large military exercises. Tsai met then-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a move that angered Beijing, which opposes nations it has ties with from having official contact with Taiwan.

The latest warplane flights add to the pressure campaign China has rolled out since the election victory in January of Lai, who Beijing accuses of pursuing independence. That drive has included holding major military drills just after he took office in May, peeling off one of Taiwan’s few remaining diplomatic allies and expanding a law targeting what it sees as “separatists.”

China has vowed to bring the archipelago of 23 million people under its control someday, by force if necessary.

On July 2, China seized a Taiwanese fishing boat for the first time since 2007 because it was operating out of season in its waters. The two Taiwanese crew members remain in China, which has called the incident was normal law enforcement. Taipei has urged Beijing to refrain from escalating that situation.

While Beijing has never officially recognized the median line that the U.S. drew in 1954 during a period of cross-strait tensions, its military had for decades respected the boundary.

The PLA has stepped up incursions across the line in recent years, effectively shrinking the buffer zone between the two sides and slashing the amount of time that Taiwan’s smaller military has to react to any attack from China.

President Joe Biden has repeatedly said the U.S. would come to Taiwan’s aid in the event of a Chinese invasion. The U.S. has also stepped up military aid to the archipelago in recent years in the hopes of deterring any attack.

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