Taiwan says Chinese movements ‘abnormal’, flags amphibious drills

September 22, 2023 - 4:35 PM
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Soldiers march past a sign of the Taiwan flag on Dongyin island of Matsu archipelago in Taiwan August 15, 2022. (Reuters/Ann Wang)

TAIPEI — Recent Chinese movements around Taiwan were “abnormal,” the island’s defence minister said on Friday, flagging amphibious exercises in addition to drills Taipei has observed in the province facing the island.

Taiwan has reported a rise in Chinese military activity over the past week, as dozens of fighters, drones, bombers and other aircraft, as well as warships, have operated around it.

China, which views democratically governed Taiwan as its own territory, has in recent years regularly carried out such drills around the island in seeking to assert its sovereignty claims and pressure Taipei.

“Our initial analysis is that they are doing joint drills in September, including land, sea, air and amphibious,” Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng told reporters at parliament.

The “recent enemy situation is quite abnormal,” he added.

The comments followed an unusual statement from the defense ministry on Thursday, that it was keeping watch on Chinese activities near Dacheng Bay in the southern province of Fujian facing Taiwan.

This is an area where Taiwan security sources say China performs landing drills.

China has not said anything about the drills around Taiwan, and its defence ministry did not respond to two requests for comment.

Chiu said releasing the information about Dacheng Bay was in line with his ministry’s principle of telling people what was happening.

China carried out landing drills in Dacheng Bay in September last year and the year before that, said Chieh Chung, a military researcher at Taiwan’s National Policy Foundation think tank.

Those exercises featured civilian ships with equipment practicing “dockless unloading”, to simulate a situation in which they might need to land after port facilities are knocked out of action or destroyed, Chieh said.

However, China would be hard pressed to carry out a frontal, amphibious invasion of the island, given geographic difficulties, a senior U.S. defense official told Congress on Tuesday.

Last week China also dispatched more than 100 naval ships on regional exercises, in areas such as strategic waters in the South China Sea and off Taiwan’s northeast coast, a regional security official told Reuters on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the media.

China traditionally performs large-scale exercises in the period from July to September, Taiwan’s defense ministry has said previously.

Earlier on Friday, the ministry said it had detected 24 Chinese air force aircraft entering Taiwan’s air defense zone over the previous 24 hours, with at least 17 crossing the median line of the Taiwan Strait, according to a map it published.

The median line used to serve as an unofficial barrier between the two sides until China’s air force began regularly crossing it last year.

– Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee; Editing by Tom Hogue and Clarence Fernandez