Taipei, Taiwan - Two Chinese jets briefly flew across the Taiwan Strait "median line" - the de facto border between China and Taiwan - on Monday morning in what has been a busy year in cross-Strait military exercises.
While the jets were signalling Beijing's displeasure with US Health Secretary Alex Azar's ongoing visit to Taipei, similar missions have entered Taiwanese airspace and waters at least 20 times this year, according to local media.
While Taipei is not required to publicly disclose every military encounter with the People's Liberation Army (PLA), Taiwan's Foreign Minister Joseph Wu warned in July that Beijing might be preparing to "solve the Taiwan issue" - a euphemism for taking control of the island.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has not ruled out force in taking Taiwan, a democracy of 23 million people that Beijing's Communist Party claims as its own although it has never ruled the island.
Officials and analysts in Taiwan say the uptick in military activity this year is a sign that Beijing may be seeking a distraction from a slew of domestic problems, including a summer of catastrophic flooding in southern China, as well as international pressure on a range of issues, including the novel coronavirus pandemic and the trade war with the US.
Taiwan, which remains a diplomatic sore spot for Beijing, has long been a convenient scapegoat for the Communist Party in times of trouble, according to Wang Ting-yu, a Democratic Progressive Party legislator and member of Taiwan's Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee.
"This year, the activity appears of the PLA seems a little bit much more than usual, especially in the Southeast part of the Taiwan Strait. We noticed that compared with China's domestic situation, the Chinese Communist Party have some problems inside their country: COVID-19, floods, some food shortages and the economy is a little bit worse than usual," Wang told Al Jazeera.
"We think something happened inside the Chinese Communist leadership, maybe Xi faced some kind of challenge, and they are using outside conflict to divert [internal] leadership [problems]."
The uptick in military pressure was first noted by China-watchers in March and April and continued over the ensuing months, even as Taiwan held its own annual domestic drill in July to prepare for a possible attack or invasion by the PLA.
Enoch Wu, a Taiwanese political activist and former staffer on Taiwan's National Security Council, told Al Jazeera that he expected the hostilities to escalate.
"Certainly the number of exercises is quite high this year, but I think we should see it as part of a longer-term trend. Every year, China has been steadily increasing and escalating its military activities, so from where I sit, I see that as part of a longer-term pattern that's probably going to intensify," Wu said.
"There is a public expectation here that China will continue to ramp up pressure, and there's a lot more they can do, and will do, before an ...