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China flies 38 aircraft, including a combat drone, near Taiwan

A long-range Chinese combat drone capable of carrying a large weapons payload has circled Taiwan, the island’s defence ministry said Friday.

Taiwan’s defence ministry said it detected 38 Chinese aircraft, including a TB-001 drone nicknamed the “twin-tailed scorpion”, around the island between 6 am (1000 GMT) Thursday and 6 am Friday.

The drone’s circling flight path saw it cross the median line — an unofficial boundary dividing the Taiwan Strait — to the island’s south before flying around its east coast and returning to China, a map released by the ministry showed.

Local media said it was the first time Taiwan’s defence ministry had reported a Chinese military aircraft circling the island from one end of the median line to the other.

The ministry added that 19 of the aircraft had “crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait or entered Taiwan’s southwest, southeast, and northeast (air defence identification zone)”, or ADIZ, the highest number of incursions since China ended three days of war games earlier this month.

The zone is not the same as Taiwan’s territorial airspace and includes a far greater area that overlaps with part of China’s own ADIZ and even some of the mainland.

The TB-001 is one of the largest drones in China’s arsenal and boasts a flight range of 6,000 kilometres (3,700 miles).

China previously deployed the drone during the military drills that ended on April 10 and involved simulating targeted strikes and a blockade of Taiwan.

The war games were a response to Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s visit to the United States, where she met Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy.

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Separately, the Chinese military said it sent fighter jets to track a US reconnaissance plane as it flew through the Taiwan Strait on Friday.

Led by the United States, Western militaries regularly conduct “freedom of navigation operations” with warships and aircraft to assert the international status of regional waterways such as the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea.

In a social media post on the incident, the Chinese military said the US plane was a P-8A Poseidon.

The US Navy’s Seventh Fleet confirmed the flight.

“By operating within the Taiwan Strait in accordance with international law, the United States upholds the navigational rights and freedoms of all nations,” it said.

The last time a P-8A flew through the Taiwan Strait was in February, prompting a similar reaction from China.