TAIPEI — Taiwan Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng warned on Monday the island has to be on alert this year for a “sudden entry” by the Chinese military into areas close to its territory amid the rising military tensions across the Taiwan Strait.
China has stepped up its military activities around Taiwan in recent years, including almost daily Air Force incursions into the island’s air defense identification zone.
However, Taiwan has not yet reported any incident of Chinese forces entering its contiguous zone, which is 24 nautical miles (44.4 kilometers) from its coastline. But it has shot down a civilian drone that entered its airspace near an islet off the Chinese coast last year.
Answering questions from lawmakers in parliament, Chiu said the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) might find excuses to enter areas close to Taiwan’s territorial air and sea space as the island steps up its military exchanges with the United States, to Beijing’s ire.
He said the PLA might make a “sudden entry” into Taiwan’s contiguous zone and get close to its territorial space, which the island defines as 12 nautical miles from its coastlines.
“(I) specifically make these comments this year, meaning they are making such preparations,” Chiu said. “Looking forward, they would use force if they really have to.”
Taiwan has vowed to exercise its right to self-defense and counter-attack if Chinese armed forces entered its territory.
China last year staged unprecedented military exercises around Taiwan in reaction to a visit to the island by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Chiu said China is looking to “make trouble under a certain pretext”, adding that might include visits to the island made by foreign senior government officials or Taiwan’s frequent military contacts with other countries.
He said the PLA sends about 10 planes or ships to areas near Taiwan a day. Some of them cross the median line of the Taiwan Strait, which normally serves as an unofficial buffer, on an almost daily basis, he added.
Chiu said since China has destroyed a tacit agreement on military movements in the Strait, Taiwan has made preparations to “fire the first shot” if Chinese entities, including drones or balloons, enter its territorial space.
China claims self-governed Taiwan as its own and has not renounced the use of force to bring the island under Chinese control, if needed. Taiwan strongly rejects China’s sovereignty claims and says only its people can decide their future.
— Reporting by Roger Tung and Yimou Lee; Editing by Tom Hogue, Christian Schmollinger and Raju Gopalakrishnan