Taiwanese Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said Monday that China will use Taiwan’s growing relationship with the US as an excuse to increase military pressure on the island.
“Beijing has been looking for excuses, such as visits from high-ranking officials from abroad and frequent military exchanges between Taiwan and other countries, to intensify the military threat,” Chiu told Taiwanese legislators. “It is constantly adjusting the size of its forces, waiting to respond whenever a situation calls for military action.”
Chiu said Chinese warplanes might enter areas within 24 nautical miles of Taiwan’s coast, known as the contiguous zone if House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) ends up visiting Taiwan. However, the Financial Times reported Monday that Taiwan convinced McCarthy not to make the trip to avoid escalating tensions with Beijing. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen will instead meet with him in California during an upcoming trip to the US.
China responded to former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) visiting Taiwan by holding its largest-ever military exercises around Taiwan. Beijing has kept up the military pressure by regularly flying warplanes across the median line, an unofficial barrier that separates the Taiwan Strait, which China used to avoid crossing.
According to Taipei Times, Chiu expects China to take more serious action if McCarthy visits Taiwan. He said China could “without warning break into our territorial sea baseline of 24 nautical miles and approach our territorial space of 12 nautical miles [from Taiwan’s coast].”
Chiu said if Chinese aircraft or warships enter the contiguous zone, Taiwan would “restrain ourselves from launching the first strike to avoid giving China an excuse to attack Taiwan.” But if China threatens entering the area within 12 nautical miles of Taiwan, it would be met with a response.
“We would be forced to respond should Chinese military vessels and aircraft come near or enter the nation’s airspace and territorial waters, even if they are in disputed areas,” he said.
In September, Taiwan’s military shot down a drone for the first time that flew over a tiny islet in Kinmen County, a Taiwanese-controlled archipelago off the southeastern coast of mainland China. The incident took place near the Shiyu islet, which is only about 2.5 miles away from the Chinese mainland city of Xiamen, and the drone was shot down after ignoring warnings.
Taiwan described the drone as a civilian aircraft and didn’t accuse Beijing of sending it but said it flew from the direction of Xiamen. Drones started appearing in the area after Pelosi’s trip to Taipei.