TAIPEI, July 11 — Taiwan’s defence ministry said Thursday it had detected 66 Chinese military aircraft around the island in a 24-hour window, a record-high this year, a day after it said Beijing was conducting exercises in nearby waters.

China claims self-ruled democratic Taiwan as part of its territory and has said it will never renounce the use of force to bring it under its control.

Thursday’s record follows Taipei a day earlier spotting Chinese aircraft around the island that it said were headed to the western Pacific for exercises with the PLA aircraft carrier Shandong.

“66 PLA aircraft and seven PLAN vessels operating around Taiwan were detected up until 6 am (2200 GMT Wednesday) today,” the defence ministry said in Thursday’s statement.

Fifty-six of the aircraft crossed the sensitive median line bisecting the Taiwan Strait — a narrow 180-kilometre waterway separating the island from China.

The ministry added it had “monitored the situation and responded accordingly”.

An illustration it released showed some of the aircraft came within 61km of Taiwan’s southern tip.

The year’s previous record was in May, when Beijing sent 62 military aircraft and 27 naval vessels around Taiwan.

That occurred in the middle of war games Beijing launched on the heels of the inauguration of Taiwan President Lai Ching-te, who Beijing regards as a “dangerous separatist”.

Military expert Su Tzu-yun said China’s latest show of force was a reaction to recent political developments, including Washington’s new de facto ambassador to Taiwan meeting with and expressing support for Taipei during a meeting with Lai on Wednesday.

“Beijing puts pressure on Taiwan in order to express its displeasure at the support it enjoys,” said Su of Taiwan’s Institute for National Defence and Security Research.

Taiwan defence minister Wellington Koo on Wednesday noted that the Shandong had not passed “through the Bashi Channel”, the area off Taiwan’s southern tip where Chinese ships typically transit en route to the Pacific Ocean.

Instead, it “went further south through the Balingtang Channel towards the Western Pacific,” he said, referring to a waterway just north of the Philippines’ Babuyan Island — about 250 kilometres south of Bashi.

Neighbouring Japan on Tuesday confirmed that four PLA navy vessels — including the Shandong — were sailing 520 kilometres south-east of Miyako island.

“Fighter aircraft and helicopters” had been seen taking off from and landing on the Shandong,” it said.

The Philippines’ military public affairs chief said they had received reports of a China-Russia exercise taking place in the Philippine Sea but did not comment about the Shandong directly.

Tensions between Manila and Beijing have grown following a series of escalating confrontations over the hotly disputed South China Sea. — AFP