A government minister said on Wednesday that Taiwan had spotted Chinese drones circling the Taiwan controlled Pratas Islands in the South China Sea and could shoot them down if they get too close, escalating tensions with Beijing.
Since US President Joe Biden has assumed office, the US support for Taiwan has increasingly redacted. It has become increasingly adhering to China’s One China Policy and Taipei is feeling the heat. But US-less Quad countries have extended their support to Taiwan with Tokyo playing the lead. Taiwan is getting increasingly emboldened and the latest statement is a testament to it.
“They have never entered our restricted waters and airspace, they’ve just flown around them at a certain distance,” Lee Chung-wei said, who heads the Ocean Affairs Council.
Although China does not recognise Taiwanese sovereignty claims, its aircraft and ships usually stay outside Taiwan’s restricted zone, which stretches 6 kilometres from the island’s coast. Lee said the Coast Guard has rules of engagement in case a Chinese drone enters the restricted zone. “After it enters it will be handled under the rules. If we need to open fire, we open fire.”
The Pratas, which are located at the top of the disputed waterway, have recently become a point of contention between Taiwan and Beijing. The island nation has recently protested about repeated Chinese air force activity near the islands, which the Taiwanese Coast Guard only lightly defend despite occasional marine deployments. There is no permanent civilian population, just scientists who come to visit.
Taiwan’s response to Chinese drones attempting to violate the airspace is not unprecedented. Recently, Taiwan admitted that it has begun mass production of a long-range missile and is developing three other models, in a rare admission of efforts to develop strike capacity amid growing Chinese pressure.
Emboldened by Japan and other members of the Quad except for the US, Taiwan is becoming increasingly resilient. Japan has recently signalled support for Taiwan. Tokyo has expressed that in case of any Chinese adventurism vis a vis Taiwan, Tokyo will provide a full-on military, as well as all other kinds of support to the island nation.
Besides, the Taiwanese government has begun building a submarine fleet that will further deter any cross-Strait misadventures by Beijing. It is building eight state-of-the-art submarines and the construction on the first one began last month. The first submarine is expected to be ready for sea trials by 2025.
As the faith of allies in the USA all around the world is fading, countries like Taiwan too are taking things into their own hands. Taipei understands how China’s military posturing strategy works. The bold statement to shoot down drones of the increasingly belligerent and a potential invading force is a signal to Beijing and Washington. Taiwan is not folding in the face of impediment, it is rising up to the challenge.