Taiwan’s Defense Ministry has confirmed for the first time that China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had sent drones over the median line, the unofficial barrier that separates the two sides of the Taiwan Strait that was drawn by the US in 1955, The South China Morning Post reported on Sunday.
Taiwan’s Defense Ministry first reported a Chinese drone crossed the median line this past Thursday. On that day, 45 PLA aircraft were flying in the region and 25 of them crossed the median line. Chinese drones also crossed the unofficial barrier in sorties reported by Taiwan on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
The reported flights come after Taiwan said it shot down a civilian drone over Kinmen County, a Taiwanese-controlled archipelago off the southeastern coast of mainland China.
A source close to the PLA told The South China Morning Post that China had flown drones in the area before, but this was the first time it was reported by Taiwan. “The PLA used to send UAVs to perform reconnaissance tasks in sensitive areas of the sky before sending fighter jets for special missions, but the Taiwanese military wasn’t aware of it until recently,” the source said.
The source said that the drone flights were part of China’s stepped-up military pressure on Taiwan that came in response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei. Since her trip in early August, Beijing has drastically increased its flights over the median line, a barrier it used to avoid.
According to Japan Times, China flew 302 sorties across the median line in August. Between 1954 and August 2020, China flew across the barrier only four times. Between September 2020 and Pelosi’s visit, Chinese warplanes made the flight 23 times.
The uptick in Chinese flights after August 2020 was in response to the Trump administration sending the highest-level cabinet officials to Taiwan since Washington severed diplomatic relations with Taipei in 1979.
China has kept up the military pressure as US officials continue to visit Taiwan. Last week, a bipartisan delegation of House lawmakers marked the sixth US visit to the island since the beginning of August.
Beijing views the US trips as Washington moving away from the one-China policy. China has repeatedly warned that the issue is a red line and that US support for Taiwan’s “independence forces” could lead to war.