Taiwan shoots down drone, showing risk of escalation with China

The drones' flights over Taiwan's outlying islands started in late July. PHOTO: AFP

TAIPEI - Taiwan downed a civilian drone after weeks of complaints about incursions by unmanned aerial vehicles from China, a sign Taipei is pushing back against Beijing's efforts to encroach on its territory.

Taiwanese troops shot the drone down near Kinmen Island around noon on Thursday after attempts to repel it failed, according to a statement from the garrison on the Taipei-held outpost just off China.

That followed incidents on Tuesday and Wednesday in which Taiwan fired warning shots and flares at civilian drones that approached its offshore islands.

Taiwan's military is trying to reaffirm limits on Chinese presence around its territory after US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the self-ruled island on Aug 2.

Speaking to the armed forces on Thursday, Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen said China was continuing to use drone intrusions and other “grey zone” tactics to try to intimidate Taiwan, her office cited her as saying in a statement.

Ms Tsai again emphasised that Taiwan would not provoke disputes but that did not mean that it would not take countermeasures, the statement added.

“She has also ordered the Ministry of National Defense to take necessary and strong countermeasures in a timely manner to defend national security,” it said.

“Let the military guard the country without fear and with solid confidence.”

In a speech on Tuesday, Ms Tsai urged the military to craft a strong response to China's pressure campaign without prompting further escalation.

'Grey-zone tactics'

"Drones are part of China's grey-zone tactics and cognitive warfare against Taiwan," said Dr Kuo Yu-jen, director of the Institute for National Policy Research in Taipei.

"The incursions are an attempt to humiliate Taiwan's military," he added. "Taiwan's government first responded to it cautiously and only turned tougher when they became more frequent."

The People's Liberation Army held unprecedented exercises for several days around Taiwan after Mrs Pelosi's visit, including firing ballistic missiles over the island.

Taipei has reported that an average of more than 10 Chinese warplanes have crossed the US-drafted median line that divides the Taiwan Strait each day since Mrs Pelosi arrived, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News.

The drones' flights over Taiwan's outlying islands started in late July, although neither side has specified where they are coming from.

The Chinese Communist Party's Global Times newspaper has said "the frequent flights of civilian drones from the mainland expose the Taiwan armed forces' weak defences".

"China meant to test the response of Taiwan's military in offshore islands like Kinmen by sending those drones, and also used these small-scale events to see how Taiwanese society responds to them," said Ms Crystal Tu, assistant research fellow at Institute for National Defence and Security Research.

"They may also try to see whether there are loopholes in the procedure or response that they can further take advantage of."

'Severe military challenges'

Two US Navy guided-missile cruisers sailed through the Taiwan Strait on Sunday, as part of the Biden administration's effort to demonstrate its commitment to maintaining a military presence in the region.

The administration is preparing to sell about US$1.1 billion (S$1.54 billion) in other missiles and radars to Taiwan, according to a person familiar with the matter, in what would be the largest such transfer in almost two years.

The Taiwanese Defence Ministry told lawmakers China's increasing encroachments pose "severe military challenges" to the island, according to a report seen by Bloomberg News.

Mr Lin Wen-huang, an operations and planning official at the ministry, separately told reporters Wednesday that Taiwan would counterattack if Chinese forces entered its territory.

"Our stance is that the closer the incursions are to Taiwan, the stronger our counter measures will be," he said. BLOOMBERG

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