By Eric Cheung and Brad Lendon, CNN

China sent 28 warplanes across the median line of the Taiwan Strait on Sunday as Beijing conducted its first large-scale military exercises around the island this year, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said.

The 28 People’s Liberation Army (PLA) planes were among 57 spotted near Taiwan, the ministry said, adding they included J-10, J-11, J-16 and Su-30 fighters, H-6 bombers, three drones and an early warning and reconnaissance aircraft.

Taiwan tasked aircraft, naval vessels and land-based missile systems to respond to the Chinese activities, the ministry said.

A map provided by the ministry showed PLA aircraft crossing the median line in seven places from north to south and flying through Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) south of the island, then turning slightly north to the east of the line.

A statement from the PLA’s Eastern Theater Command said its forces engaged in combat drills around Taiwan on Sunday.

“The exercise focused on land strikes, sea assaults and other subjects, aiming to test the troops’ joint combat capability and resolutely counter the collusive and provocative acts of the external forces and the ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist forces,” according to a statement posted on the state-run China Military Online.

China’s ruling Communist Party views Taiwan — a democratically governed island of 24 million — as part of its territory, despite having never controlled it. It has long vowed to “reunify” the island with the Chinese mainland, by force if necessary.

The combat exercise follows a similar one on December 25, in which the PLA sent 47 aircraft across the median line of the Taiwan Strait out of a total 71 that were spotted around the island, according to Taiwan’s Defense Ministry.

US warship transits Taiwan Strait

China’s military drills Sunday came three days after a US Navy destroyer transited the Taiwan Strait in a “freedom of navigation” operation, the first such voyage reported by the US Navy this year.

The USS Chung-Hoon “transited through a corridor in the Strait that is beyond the territorial sea of any coastal state,” a US 7th Fleet statement said, adding that its route “demonstrates the United States’ commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

China said it monitored the movement of the US warship and that all its movements were “under control.”

A story in the state-run Global Times tabloid said the PLA would intensify its drills around Taiwan if provocations from outside forces and “Taiwan independence” forces continue.

The Global Times story cited the US destroyer’s transit of the Taiwan Strait and a potential $180 million US arms sale to Taiwan approved by the Biden administration on December 28.

The sale of vehicle-launched anti-tank munition-laying systems “serves U.S. national, economic, and security interests by supporting the recipient’s continuing efforts to modernize its armed forces and to maintain a credible defensive capability,” a US State Department statement said.

Washington has long provided arms to Taiwan under the terms of the Taiwan Relations Act, which says the US will provide the island with the means to defend itself.

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