China sent 18 warplanes, including fighters and bombers, into Taiwan’s air defence zone, prompting the island’s air force to scramble jets in response to the second-largest incursion so far this year.

Taipei’s defence ministry said the Chinese aircraft crossed into the island’s air defence zone on Friday, forcing the scrambling of Taiwanese aircraft and the deployment of air defence missile systems to track the Chinese planes.

Taiwan, which is claimed by China as its own territory, has complained of repeated such missions by Chinese aircraft, which have become a common occurrence over the past two years or so.

There was no immediate comment from China’s Defence Ministry.

China has described previous incursions as missions to defend the country’s sovereignty and to counter Taiwan’s “collusion” with foreign forces – a veiled reference to US support for Taipei.

The government in Taipei is currently in a heightened state of alert due to fears that China could use Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to make a similar military move on the island, though authorities have not reported any signs Beijing is about to attack.

Friday’s incursion was the second-largest this year after 39 warplanes entered Taiwan’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ) on January 23, according to figures compiled by the AFP news agency. The identification zone is separate from Taiwanese airspace, as the air defence zone covers a broader area that Taiwan patrols as a means to give the island more time to respond to any threats by China.

Parts of Taiwan’s ADIZ also overlap with China’s ADIZ.

Ukraine may be East Asia tomorrow’

Taiwan lives under the constant threat of invasion by Beijing, which sees the self-ruled democratic island as part of its territory to be retaken one day, by force if necessary.Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida warned on Thursday that the invasion of Ukraine could be replicated in East Asia if leading powers do not respond as one to Moscow’s aggression, saying that peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait must be maintained.

Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry thanked Kishida for his comments on stability in the Taiwan Strait, saying they “not only reflect the aspirations of democratic countries, but also win the recognition and approval of the international community”.

On Friday, China’s Foreign Ministry responded by accusing Japan of exaggerating the perceived threat from Beijing as an excuse to boost its own military ambitions.

“If Japan really wants peace and stability in East Asia, it should immediately stop provoking confrontation between big powers and do more to help increase the trust between regional countries and promote regional peace and stability,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a regular briefing in Beijing.