Taiwan says military under pressure from China as missions mount

Taiwan air force scrambled more than twice as much in 2020 to intercept Chinese planes crossing island’s air buffer zone.

Taiwan's defence ministry said so far this year the air force had scrambled 4,132 times, up 129 percent compared with all of last year [File: Yimou Lee/Reuters]

Taiwan’s military has launched aircraft to intercept Chinese planes more than twice as often so far in 2020 as the whole of last year, the island’s defence ministry said on Tuesday, saying Beijing was creating a severe security challenge for the self-ruled island.

In a report to parliament, a copy of which was reviewed by the Reuters news agency, Taiwan’s defence ministry said the air force had scrambled 4,132 times so far this year, up 129 percent compared with all of 2019, according to Reuters’ calculations.

China “is trying to use unilateral military actions to change the security status quo in the Taiwan Strait, and at the same time is testing our response, increasing pressure on our air defences and shrinking our space for activity,” it said.

Beijing claims democratic Taiwan is part of its territory, and has stepped up its military activities near the island since Tsai Ing-wen was first elected president in 2016. Manoeuvres have intensified since she assumed a second term in January and as the United States has stepped up support for the island.

In the past few weeks, Chinese fighter jets have crossed the mid-line of the Taiwan Strait, which normally serves as an official buffer between the island and the mainland, and have flown into Taiwan’s southwestern air defence identification zone.

The rapid development of China’s military has been accompanied by “targeted” military actions against Taiwan, the ministry added.

China has been particularly angered by growing US support for Taiwan, including senior US officials visiting the island, which has added to tensions between the two countries.

Taiwan’s military modernisation

While Taiwan is unable to compete in terms of numbers with China’s armed forces, President Tsai has been overseeing a military modernisation programme, aimed at making the island’s armed forces more nimble and Taiwan more difficult to attack.

Tsai rejects Beijing’s view that Taiwan – self-ruled for 70 years and one of the region’s most vibrant democracies – is part of “One China”.

In September, Taiwan demanded that China “back off”, accusing Beijing of threatening peace, after recent air and naval incursions.

Taiwan president Tsai presented in June the island’s newly built Indigenous Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT) named ‘Yung Yin’ or ‘Brave Eagle’, in Taichung city [Ritchie B Tongo/EPA]

Addressing a Taiwan-US defence conference late on Monday, Vice Defence Minister Chang Guan-chung said China has been ramping up what he called “realistic training against Taiwan”.

“We are developing systems that are small, numerous, smart, stealthy, fast, mobile, low-cost, survivable, effective, easy to develop, maintain and preserve, and difficult to detect and counter,” he said.

Chang called for enhanced cooperation with the US that goes beyond weapons sales, saying that would further invigorate Taiwan’s defence reform and military modernisation.

“We will also emphasise joint effort in training, operational concepts, capability assessment, intelligence sharing, and armament cooperation. These are equally important as the acquisition of hardware,” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies