Taiwan reports eight Chinese fighters in its defence zone as it appoints new defence minister
Taiwan’s air force scrambled after eight Chinese fighter aircraft flew into the south-western part of its air defence identification zone, in an uptick in tensions that came as Taipei announced a new defence minister and intelligence chief.
China has increased its military activity around the democratic island it claims as Chinese territory in recent months.
Beijing said it is responding to what it calls “collusion” between Taiwan and the United States, Taiwan’s most important international backer and weapons supplier.
Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said four Chinese J-16s and four JH-7s as well as an electronic warfare aircraft flew near the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands in the top part of the South China Sea, into the south-western area of its air defence identification zone.
The ministry said Taiwan’s air force scrambled, with “radio warnings issued and air defence missile systems deployed to monitor the activity”.
This sortie was the first large-scale entrance into the zone since January 24 when 12 Chinese fighters entered the area.
There was no immediate comment from China.
Shortly before the ministry’s announcement, Taiwan announced a reshuffle of senior security officials including a new, US-trained Defence Minister, to help bolster military modernisation and intelligence efforts.
President Tsai Ing-wen has vowed to defend the island and has made modernising its armed forces a priority, including developing a fleet of new submarines, buying new F-16 fighters from the United States and upgrading its warships.
Presidential Office Spokesman Xavier Chang told reporters that National Security Bureau Director-General Chiu Kuo-cheng, who graduated from the US Army War College in 1999, would replace Yen De-fa as Defence Minister.
Mr Chang said the President expected Mr Chiu to complete the next stage of military reforms, including planning for “asymmetric warfare”, focusing on high-tech, mobile weapons designed to make any Chinese attack as difficult as possible.
Mr Chiu’s old job as intelligence chief will be taken by Taiwan’s top China policy-maker, Chen Ming-tong, now head of the Mainland Affairs Council.
Mr Chang said Mr Chen was ideally placed for this due to his deep knowledge of China.
“The most important task of the National Security Bureau is to understand and have a grasp on China,” Mr Chang said, adding the newly-appointed officials will formally take up their posts next week.
Historical tensions between China and Taiwan
China illustrates its claims in the South China Sea with a vague, U-shaped “nine-dash line” that includes swathes of Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone, or EEZ, as well as the Paracel Islands and Spratly Islands.
It also overlaps the EEZs of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
Heated rhetoric has been on the rise in the region, where Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam challenge China’s claim to about 90 per cent of the sea.
China, which claims democratically run Taiwan as its own territory, has also recently been angered by increased US support for the island, including arms sales and sending warships through the Taiwan Strait, further souring Beijing-Washington relations.
For the past few years defence officials have watched with increasing nervousness as China steadily built up weapons and runways on its disputed islands in the South China Sea, while also constructing artificial outposts for military purposes.