Chinese fighter jets or drones that enter into Taiwan’s territorial airspace will be regarded as a “first strike,” Taiwan’s Defense Minister has warned even as the island seeks to step-up its defenses in response to Beijing’s military pressure.
Taiwan’s Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng made the remarks on Wednesday, October 5 while addressing lawmakers on the threats posed by China’s recent escalatory measures involving Chinese warplanes and drones flying near the island.
Chiu did not specify how Taipei would respond if People’s Liberation Army aircraft breached the territorial limit, defined as 12 nautical miles (22.2 kilometers) from the island’s shores.
“In the past, we said we won’t be the first to strike, which meant we will not fire the first shot without (China) firing artillery shells or missiles first,” Chiu Kuo-cheng said.
“But now the definition has obviously changed, as China used means such as drones. So we have adjusted, and will view any crossing of aerial entities (into Taiwan’s territorial airspace) as a first strike,” Chiu said during a meeting of the Legislature’s Foreign and National Defense Committee.
Earlier this year, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said the island’s military would take “necessary and forceful countermeasures as appropriate” against what she called Chinese gray zone warfare tactics, including “drone harassment.”
“We will not give China the pretext to create conflict. We will not provoke disputes and we will be restrained, yet that does not mean we will not counteract,” Tsai said.
Questioned by lawmakers, Chiu said Taiwan’s military “definitely has its red line” when it comes to the island’s defense, and stressed that the military will launch “countermeasures” once the red line is crossed, without specifying what the red line is and what those countermeasures will be.
Taiwan lies fewer than 110 miles (177 kilometers) off the coast of China. For more than 70 years the two countries have been governed separately, but that hasn’t stopped China’s ruling Communist Party from claiming the island as its own despite having never controlled it.
Tensions between Beijing and Taipei are at the highest they’ve been in recent decades, with the Chinese military holding major military drills near the island.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping has said that “reunification” between China and Taiwan is inevitable and refused to rule out the use of force.
Following the visit of US House of Representative Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan in early August, China stepped up military pressure tactics on the island, sending fighter jets across the median line of the Taiwan Strait, the body of water separating Taiwan and China.