China sends more warplanes as Taiwan honors late leader

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Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen speaks during a memorial service for the late former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui in Taipei, Taiwan on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020. Lee, remembered for leading the island's transition to democracy, died at age 97 in July, (Pool Photo via AP)

TAIPEI – China sent more warplanes toward Taiwan for the second day Saturday as the island's leader, senior government officials and a high-level U.S. envoy paid tribute to the man who led Taiwan's transition to democracy, former President Lee Teng-hui.

Keith Krach, the U.S. undersecretary for state, kept a low profile at the service. His presence at the event and on the island has drawn a strong rebuke from China, which sent 18 warplanes across the midline of the Taiwan Strait Friday in an unusually large display of force.

On Saturday, Beijing dispatched 19 more warplanes, two of which were bombers, according to Taiwan's Defense Ministry. The island's air force scrambled their own and deployed an air defense missile system to monitor China's activities, according to a statement.

The service was held at the Aletheia University in Taipei on a balmy Saturday morning, with President Tsai Ing-wen honoring Lee for bringing a peaceful political transition to the island democracy.

Lee had built a separate Taiwanese political identity, distinct from mainland China, which claims Taiwan as part of its own territory to be reunited by force if necessary. Lee’s carving out of a non-Chinese identity and insistence that the island be treated as an equal country brought him into direct conflict with Beijing.

He died on July 30 at age 97.

“We have a responsibility to continue his endeavors, allowing the will of the people to reshape Taiwan, further defining Taiwan’s identity and deepening and bolstering democracy and freedom,” Tsai said.

Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the Dalai Lama also paid tribute from afar.