Taiwan says it will fight to the end if Beijing attacks

Statement comes as 15 Chinese aircraft enter island's air defence identification zone

TAIPEI • Taiwan will fight to the end if China attacks, Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said yesterday, adding that the United States saw a danger that this could happen amid mounting Chinese military pressure near the island.

Yesterday, 15 Chinese air force aircraft entered Taiwan's air defence identification zone, including 12 fighter jets, the island's Defence Ministry said.

Taiwan said it had also recently spotted Chinese drones circling the Taipei-controlled Pratas Islands in the South China Sea, adding that it may shoot them down if they stray too close.

Mr Lee Chung-wei, who heads the Ocean Affairs Council which is in charge of the Coast Guard, said in Parliament: "They have never entered our restricted waters and airspace, they've just flown around them at a certain distance."

Asked how the Coast Guard would react if a Chinese drone entered that restricted zone, Mr Lee said they had rules of engagement. "After it enters it will be handled under the rules. If we need to open fire, we open fire."

Taipei has complained of repeated military activities by Beijing in recent months, with China's air force making almost daily forays into Taiwan's air defence identification zone. On Monday, China said an aircraft carrier group was exercising close to the island.

Mr Wu said: "From my limited understanding of American decision-makers watching developments in this region, they clearly see the danger of the possibility of China launching an attack against Taiwan.

"We are willing to defend ourselves without any questions and we will fight the war if we need to fight the war. And if we need to defend ourselves to the very last day we will defend ourselves to the very last day."

China sees Taiwan as a breakaway province to be reunified, by force if necessary.

Washington, Taiwan's most important international backer and arms supplier, has been pushing Taipei to modernise its military so it can become a "porcupine" that is hard for China to attack.

Mr Wu said the island was determined to improve its military capabilities and spend more on defence. "The defence of Taiwan is our responsibility. We will try every way we can to improve our defence capability."

Meanwhile, Taiwan's Defence Ministry said it will run eight days of computer-aided war games this month of a Chinese attack on Taiwan, forming the first phase of the island's largest annual war games, the Han Kuang exercises.

"The drills are designed based on the toughest enemy threats, simulating all possible scenarios on an enemy invasion on Taiwan," said Major-General Liu Yu-Ping.

A second phase, including live fire drills, will take place in July. It would involve mobilising some 8,000 reservists to join live-fire, anti-landing drills, and hospitals holding drills to deal with the influx of heavy casualties.

Asked if Washington's de facto embassy, the American Institute in Taiwan, would send representatives to the drills, Maj-Gen Liu said such a plan was discussed but "will not be implemented", citing military sensitivity.

Taiwan has not said where the Chinese carrier group currently is, or if it will go next to the disputed South China Sea, where a US carrier group is currently operating.

In Parliament, Deputy Defence Minister Chang Che-ping said the Chinese carrier's movements were being closely followed, and described its drills as routine.

In another development, Taiwan yesterday also accused China of trying to lure Paraguay into switching diplomatic recognition in exchange for Covid-19 vaccines as the South American nation struggles with soaring infections.

Paraguay is one of only 15 countries that officially recognise Taipei over Beijing.

China has ramped up pressure on Taiwan since the 2016 election of President Tsai Ing-wen, who rejects Beijing's stance that the island is part of China. It has poached seven of Taiwan's official allies since then, including Panama, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic.

Mr Wu said China was trying to woo Panama with the promise of badly needed vaccines. "This is a period of time when we see Chinese 'vaccine diplomacy' has been flexing its muscles in many parts of world, especially in Central and South America," he said.

Paraguay, which has a population of about seven million, has reported over 224,000 Covid-19 cases and about 4,500 deaths in a population of about seven million.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 08, 2021, with the headline 'Taiwan says it will fight to the end if Beijing attacks'. Subscribe