Taiwan must be on alert this year for a “sudden entry” by the Chinese military into areas close to its territory as tensions rise across the Taiwan Strait, its defence minister warned.
China has stepped up its military activities around Taiwan in recent years, including almost daily air force incursions into the island’s air defence identification zone.
However, Taiwan has not reported any incident of Chinese forces entering its contiguous zone, 44.4km (24 nautical miles) from its coast. 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, Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said on Monday the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) might find excuses to enter areas close to Taiwan’s territorial air and sea space as the self-governing island steps up its military exchanges with the United States, to Beijing’s ire.
The PLA might make a “sudden entry” into Taiwan’s contiguous zone and get close to its territory, which the island defines as 22km (12 nautical miles) from its coast, he said.
“[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.”
In response, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said at a daily briefing that Beijing “will take firm measures to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
Taiwan has said it will exercise its right to self-defence and counterattack if Chinese armed forces enter its territory.
Last year, China staged unprecedented military exercises around Taiwan in reaction to a visit to the island by then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Chiu said China was looking to “make trouble under a certain pretext, ” which might include visits to the island made by senior foreign government officials or Taiwan’s frequent military contacts with other countries.
Asked by a lawmaker if the US was planning to store some of its military equipment in Taiwan, Chiu said such discussions were ongoing but declined to elaborate.
The US is Taiwan’s most important international arms supplier, and increasing US support for the democratic island has added to the tension in already strained US-China relations.
Prepared to ‘fire first shot’
Chiu said the PLA sends about 10 planes or ships to areas near Taiwan daily. Some cross the median line of the Taiwan Strait, which has traditionally served as an unofficial buffer, he said.
Chiu said since China abandoned 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 it under Chinese control if needed. Taiwan strongly rejects China’s sovereignty claims and says only its people can decide their future.