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Taiwan reports Chinese aircraft in its air defense zone after Russia invaded Ukraine

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Alberto Buzzola/LightRocket via Getty Images

Nine Chinese aircraft entered Taiwan's air defense identification zone, Taiwan's defense ministry said Thursday, on the same day that Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Tawian reported eight J-16 sorties and one Y-8 reconnaissance aircraft flying over an area to the northeast of the Pratas Islands, at the top end of the South China Sea, which prompted the island nation to scramble its air force. According to Reuters, the number of aircraft involved in the incursion is smaller than the last large-scale incident, when 39 Chinese aircraft flew into Taiwanese territory on Jan. 23.

China claims Taiwan, the seat of the exiled Republic of China government, as its own territory, and over the past two years it has regularly conducted fly-over missions in Taiwanese air space.

Taiwanese fighters were deployed to warn the Chinese aircraft to back off and air defense missiles were set up to "monitor the activities," the defense ministry said, according to Reuters.

The government in Taipei is paying close attention to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the response from Western governments over concerns that China may use the situation to move against the island.

Chinese officials have dismissed comparisons between the situation in Ukraine, where Russia has claimed historical ties to the region as a pretext to invade, and China's relationship with Taiwan.

On Wednesday, China's foreign ministry said that Taiwan is "not Ukraine" and claimed the territory has always been part of China. Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying made those remarks responding to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who warned that Russia's invasion of Ukraine could have widespread consequences, including for Taiwan, if the western nations failed to rally to support Ukraine.

"Taiwan is not Ukraine," Hua said while speaking in Beijing. "Taiwan has always been an inalienable part of China. This is an indisputable legal and historical fact."

After Russia began its attack on Thursday, Hua refused to condemn Putin's actions and urged western nations to refrain from intervening.

"We are closely following the situation and we need more information to make our judgement, isn't that enough?" Hua said.

U.S. defense officials have previously warned there is an "urgent" need to strengthen Taiwan's defenses against the "real and dangerous" possibility of an attempt by China to invade the nation.

"Bolstering Taiwan's defenses is an urgent task," Ely Ratner, the assistant secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs, said in December. "We are modernizing our capabilities, updating U.S. force posture and developing new operational concepts."

Reacting to U.S. policy in the region, Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Tan Kefei said Thursday that Taiwan remains a "core issue" for China and that foreign interference will not be tolerated, Reuters reported.

"We urge the U.S. side to recognize the high sensitivity of the Taiwan issue, stop interfering in China's internal affairs and stop playing with fire on the Taiwan issue," Tan said.

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