Taiwan Raises Concerns about Situation ‘Getting out of Hand’ with China drills

REUTERS/Tingshu Wang/File Photo
Customers dine near a giant screen broadcasting news footage of aircraft of the Air Force under the Eastern Theatre Command of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) taking part in a combat readiness patrol and “Joint Sword” exercises around Taiwan, at a restaurant in Beijing, China April 10, 2023.

TAIPEI (Reuters) – The increased frequency of China’s military activities around Taiwan recently has raised the risk of events “getting out of hand” and sparking an accidental clash, the island’s defense minister said on Saturday.

Taiwan has said that the past two weeks has seen dozens of fighters, drones, bombers and other aircraft, as well as warships and the Chinese carrier the Shandong, operating nearby.

China, which views democratically governed Taiwan as its own territory, has in recent years carried out many such drills around the island, seeking to assert its sovereignty claims and pressure Taipei.

Asked by reporters on the sidelines of parliament whether there was a risk of an accidental incident sparking a broader conflict given the frequency of the Chinese activities, Taiwan Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said: “This is something we are very worried about.”

Warships from China’s southern and eastern theater commands have been operating together off Taiwan’s east coast, he added.

“The risks of activities involving aircraft, ships, and weapons will increase, and both sides must pay attention,” Chiu said.

China has not commented about the drills around Taiwan, and its defense ministry has not responded to requests for comment.

Chiu said that when the Shandong was out at sea, which Taiwan first reported on Sept. 11, it was operating as the “opposing force” in the drills. Ministry spokesman Sun Li-fang added that China’s Eastern Theatre Command forces were the “attacking force,” simulating a battle scenario.

Taiwan’s traditional military planning for a potential conflict has been to use its mountainous east coast, especially the two major 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 east coast, and generally displaying its ability to operate much further away from China’s own coastline.

China normally performs large-scale exercises from July to September, Taiwan’s defense ministry has said.

On Saturday the ministry said China had largely dialed back its drills, reporting that over the previous 24 hour period it had only spotted two Chinese aircraft operating in its air defense zone.

Taiwan has frequently said that it would remain calm and not escalate the situation, but that it won’t allow “repeated provocations” from China, whose forces have so far not entered Taiwan’s territorial seas or airspace.