With tensions between Taiwan and mainland China on the rise, Taiwan’s military redefined its rules of engagement and said its forces have the right to “self-defense” and a “counter-attack” against Chinese warplanes. The statement came after Beijing flew fighter jets over the Taiwan Strait’s median line in response to a high-level US visit to the island.
“In the face of high-frequency harassment and threats from the enemy’s warships and warplanes recently … the military clearly redefined the contingency handling regulations concerning the first strike as our right to self-defense and counter-attack,” Taiwan’s defense ministry said on Monday.
The ministry also said the military will follow guidelines to prevent the “escalation of conflict” and “triggering events.” It is not exactly clear from the statement if Taiwan’s military can now fire first at mainland warplanes, but sources have indicated to Taiwan’s press that this is the case.
Military sources told the Taiwanese newspaper Liberty Times that defining the “first strike” as the right to “self-defense” and a “counter-attack” means Taiwan’s military would be able to fire first if they believed mainland forces intended to attack.
The median line has served as an unofficial dividing line between Taiwan and China that Beijing usually avoids crossing. Official Beijing policy is that this line doesn’t exist, and Taiwan is Chinese territory, which was the response they gave to Taipei’s protests over the recent incursion.
The display from Chinese warplanes coincided with a visit to Taiwan by US Undersecretary for Economic Affairs Keith Krach, the second high-level visit from a US official in recent months. US Health Secretary Alex Azar visited the island in August, making him the highest-level US official to visit Taiwan since Washington broke formal relations with Taipei in 1979.
Besides warming diplomatic ties, the US is making moves to increase its support for Taipei militarily. Recent reports say the Trump administration is preparing a major arms sale to Taiwan that would include up to seven types of weapons systems.
The US military has also increased activity in the region, with aircraft carriers drilling in the South China Sea, and an increase in flights from US military aircraft. US spy planes are cloaking themselves as civilian aircraft near China’s coast, and experts warn, the practice poses a significant danger to actual civilian planes.