Taiwan’s defence minister has described China’s increased military activities around the island as “abnormal” and warned that it increased the risk of an accidental clash and the situation “getting out of hand”.
Over the past two weeks, dozens of Chinese fighter jets, drones, bombers and other aircraft, as well as warships and the Chinese carrier, the Shandong, have been observed off democratically governed Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own territory.
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Taiwan’s Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said on Saturday that the risk of an accidental clash “is something we are very worried about”.
“The risks of activities involving aircraft, ships, and weapons will increase, and both sides must pay attention,” Chiu said, speaking to reporters.
Warships from China’s southern and eastern theatre commands have been operating together off Taiwan’s east coast, the minister said, in apparent combat drills.
Chiu said that when China’s Shandong aircraft carrier was out at sea, which Taiwan first reported on September 11, it was operating as the “opposing force” in the drills. Taiwan’s Defence Ministry spokesman Sun Li-fang added that China’s Eastern Theatre Command forces were the “attacking force”, simulating a battle scenario.
On Monday, Taiwan’s Defence Ministry reported a “recent high” of 103 Chinese warplanes monitored around the island within a 24-hour period. Dozens more planes have been detected since Monday, with many briefly crossing a so-called median line bisecting the Taiwan Strait – a 180-kilometre (110-mile) waterway separating the island from China.
On Friday morning, the Defence Ministry said 32 Chinese aircraft were detected within the previous 24 hours, publishing a map that illustrated the flight path of 17 planes crossing the median line. Two aircraft ventured around Taiwan’s southern tip, according to the map.
“Our enemy’s recent movements are really quite abnormal,” Defence Minister Chiu said on Friday.
“Our initial analysis is that, up to September, they have been doing joint exercises, including land, sea, air and amphibious,” he said.
China has not commented about the military drills, and its Defence Ministry has not responded to requests for comment, Reuters news agency reported.
Taiwan’s Defence Ministry also said this week that it was “monitoring [China’s] long-range artillery, rocket forces and ground troops around Fujian province’s Dacheng Bay” – an area facing the island across the Taiwan Strait.
Taiwan’s traditional military planning for a potential conflict with Beijing has been to use its mountainous east coast, especially the two largest air bases there, as a place to regroup and preserve its forces given it does not directly face China, unlike the island’s west coast.
But China has increasingly been flexing its muscles off Taiwan’s more distant east coast, and generally displaying its ability to operate much further away from China’s own coastline.
Ten Chinese military aircraft and five vessels were detected off the Taiwanese coast on Saturday, according to the ministry of defence, and Taiwan’s air force, navy, and land-based missile systems had kept track of their activities.
10 PLA aircraft and 5 PLAN vessels around Taiwan were detected by 6 a.m.(UTC+8) today. R.O.C. Armed Forces have monitored the situation and tasked CAP aircraft, Navy vessels, and land-based missile systems to respond these activities. pic.twitter.com/Fp1JRD2SvD
— 國防部 Ministry of National Defense, R.O.C. 🇹🇼 (@MoNDefense) September 23, 2023
Earlier this week, United States officials from the Pentagon said a direct invasion by China would not be easy due to Taiwan’s mountainous terrain and lack of landing beaches.
They also said combining amphibious and airborne assault operations would be “extremely complicated” for China.