TAIPEI - Taiwan Defence 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 defence identification zone.
However, Taiwan has not yet reported any incident of Chinese forces entering its contiguous zone, which is 24 nautical miles from its coastline.
But it has shot down a civilian drone that entered its airspace near an islet off the Chinese coast in 2022.
Answering questions from lawmakers in Parliament, Mr 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 coast.
“(I) specifically make these comments this year, meaning they are making such preparations,” said Mr Chiu. “Looking forward, they would use force if they really have to.”
In response, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning said at a daily briefing that Beijing “will take firm measures to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
Taiwan has vowed to exercise its right to self-defence 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 then US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Mr 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.
Asked by a lawmaker if the US was planning to store some of its military equipment in Taiwan, he 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 tension in already strained US-Sino relations.
He said the PLA sends about 10 planes or ships to areas near Taiwan a day and some of them cross the median line of the Taiwan Strait, which normally serves as an unofficial buffer, on an almost daily basis.
Mr Chiu said that 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 regards Taiwan as a renegade province to be reunified, by force if necessary. REUTERS