TAIPEI—Chinese air force jets briefly crossed the mid-line of the Taiwan Strait on Monday and were tracked by Taiwanese missiles, Taiwans government said, as U.S. health chief Alex Azar visited the island to offer President Donald Trumps support.
Azar arrived in Taiwan on Sunday, the highest-level U.S. official to visit in four decades.
China, which claims the island as its own, condemned the visit which comes after a period of sharply deteriorating relations between China and the United States.
China, which had promised unspecified retaliation to the trip, flew J-11 and J-10 fighter aircraft briefly onto Taiwans side of the sensitive and narrow strait that separates it from its giant neighbor, at around 9 a.m. (01:00 GMT), shortly before Azar met Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwans air force said.
The aircraft were tracked by land-based Taiwanese anti-aircraft missiles and were “driven out” by patrolling Taiwanese aircraft, the air force said in a statement released by the defense ministry.
Chinas defense ministry did not immediately comment.
A senior Taiwan official familiar with the governments security planning told Reuters that China was obviously “targeting” Azars visit with a “very risky” move given the Chinese jets were in range of Taiwans missiles.
The incursion was only the third time since 2016 that Taiwan has said Chinese jets had crossed the straits median line.
The Trump administration has made strengthening its support for Taiwan a priority, amid deteriorating relations between Washington and Beijing, and has boosted arms sales.
“Its a true honor to be here to convey a message of strong support and friendship from President Trump to Taiwan,” Azar told Tsai in the Presidential Office, standing in front of two Taiwanese flags.
Washington broke off official ties with Taipei in 1979 in favor of Beijing.
Azar is visiting to strengthen economic and public-health cooperation with Taiwan and support its international role in fighting COVID-19.
“Taiwans response to COVID-19 has been among the most successful in the world, and that is a tribute to the open, transparent, democratic nature of Taiwans society and culture,” he told Tsai.
Taiwans early and effective steps to fight the disease have kept its case numbers far lower than those of its neighbors, with 480 infections and seven deaths. Most cases have been imported.
Tsai told Azar his visit represented “a huge step forward in anti-pandemic collaborations between our countries”, mentioning areas of cooperation including vaccine and drug research and production.