Taiwan Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng issued a warning on Monday that the island must be on high alert this year for the possibility of an unexpected entrance of Chinese military forces into areas near its territory. This comes against the backdrop of rising military tensions between China and Taiwan.
China’s military presence around Taiwan has increased over the past few years, with frequent incursions by the Chinese Air Force within Taipei air defence identification zone. So far, however, Taipei has not reported any Chinese incursions into the 24 nautical miles zone that extends inland from the island’s coast.
Chiu, responding to queries from a lawmaker in parliament, stated that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) would find justifications to invade areas close to Taiwan’s territorial air and sea space as the island ramps up its military exchanges with the United States, provoking Beijing’s ire. He warned that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) could “suddenly enter” Taipei’s contiguous zone and approach the island’s territorial space, which it considers to be 12 nautical miles from its shores.
According to Chiu, every day the PLA deploys over ten aircraft and vessels to the waters around Taiwan. Some even go across the median line of the Taiwan Strait, which serves as an informal boundary, he said.
China’s air force has been flying near Taiwan practically daily since August when they staged war games, but none of their planes breached the tense median line of the Taiwan Strait
On Friday, Taiwan reported that 10 Chinese jets had violated the median line. Yet, China has remained silent on the recent events close to Taiwan.
There have been no reported shots fired, and the Chinese planes have been flying in Taiwan’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ), not its airspace.
Since China has broken a tacit understanding of military activity in the strait, according to Chiu, the island nation has undertaken preparations to “shoot the first shot” if Chinese actors, including drones or balloons, penetrate Taiwan’s territory.
If Chinese military forces invade Taipei, the island nation has promised to defend itself by using force.
Beijing maintains that Taiwan is an integral part of the unified China that it claims to represent. According to its One-China policy, it considers the PRC to be the only legitimate Chinese government and actively works towards Taiwan’s “unification” with the mainland.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Kuomintang (KMT) party, which ruled the island nation at the time, allegedly established an agreement in 1992 known as the 1992 Consensus, which binds Beijing to Taipei. The so-called consensus, whose contents are disputed by both parties, was never meant to resolve the issue of Taiwan’s legal standing according to the nation.
USA – Taiwan Nexus: An Upset China
According to Chiu, Beijing is planning to “create difficulties under a certain pretence,” which might refer to high-level trips to Taiwan by foreign government leaders or Taipei’s frequent military contacts with other countries.
The United States is Taipei’s primary overseas supplier of armaments, and growing American support for the democratic island has exacerbated tensions between the United States and China.
High-ranking American officials have regularly voiced concerns that China may invade the self-ruled island shortly. They have pointed to Beijing’s increasing military assertiveness surrounding the Taiwan Strait, which it claims as its own and intends to reign over.
Relations between Beijing and Washington have been tense for some time now due to disagreements on trade, human rights, and other issues, but they took a turn for the worse last month when the United States shot down a Chinese balloon it claimed was being used for surveillance. Beijing has denied these allegations.
When Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei in August of last year, she was the first sitting House speaker to do so in 25 years, severely damaging relations. China responded with unprecedented military exercises in the region.
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has been conducting extraordinary military manoeuvres off the coasts of key cities and on the east and west sides of the island nation in response to Pelosi’s visit, seemingly practising a blockade of the island, which China has vowed to one day bring under its control.
Taiwan has reported large-scale Chinese air force intrusions in the past week while the United States has approved the possible sale of $619 million in new weapons to Taipei, including missiles for its F-16 fleet.
It is expected that the arms sales will further sour already tight relations between Washington and Beijing, as the latter has repeatedly demanded such purchases cease, seeing them as inappropriate backing for democratically controlled Taiwan, an island it claims as its territory.
The Pentagon said that the US State Department had given its approval for the possible sale of weaponry and equipment to Taiwan. The United States government said in a statement that the proposed sale will help the buyer better protect its airspace, boost regional security, and improve communication and cooperation with the United States.
China’s Increased military spending
With tensions rising with the United States and its neighbours over Taiwan, the disputed South China Sea, and control of the Indo-Pacific region, China plans to increase its military spending to around $225 billion this year, a 7.2% increase compared to 2022 and the quickest rate of increase since 2019. China is expanding its already massive military by purchasing new equipment including aircraft carriers and stealth jets.
It’s common knowledge that China spends significantly more on the military than it admits to.
And yet, the United States allocation of almost $800 billion for its military this year, making China’s defence spending look puny in comparison.
Premier Li Keqiang, who is stepping down, justified the rise in the world’s second-largest defence budget by citing rising “external measures to control and contain China.”
Speaking to thousands of delegates in Beijing, Li emphasised the importance of “intensifying military training and preparedness across the board” and “devoting greater efforts to training under battle situations” in the government’s annual work report.
Li took a middle ground on Taiwan, stating that while China should work towards the “peaceful reunion” of the country, it must also take firm measures to counter Taipei’s independence.