Taiwan fires shots at Chinese drones flying into its airspace for first time

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Taiwan for the first time on Tuesday fired warning shots at Chinese drones which flew near Kinmen County, an islet controlled by the self-governing territory near the Chinese coast.

The drones headed back to China after flares were fired, said Taiwanese officials.

The unprecedented response comes shortly after president Tsai Ing-wen said she had ordered Taiwan’s military to take “strong countermeasures” against Chinese provocations.

Three “civilian drones” flew over three different areas above Taiwan’s Quemoy archipelago, the defence ministry said in a statement, adding that one hovered again over the islet Erdan, just 30 minutes after the warning shots were fired.

Chang Jung-shun, the Kinmen defence command spokesman, said live rounds were fired just before 6pm local time at the drone which had approached Erdan islet.

There was no immediate response from China, which considers Taiwan to be a part of its national territory, even though the island has been self ruled since it split from the mainland in 1949 following a civil war. China has not ruled out force to bring the island under its control.

Beijing’s military exercises around the island nation following US House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei has triggered a fear of conflict in the region.

Earlier this week, the Taiwanese military made its four-step protocol for responding to drone encounters public, which includes firing warning flares, reporting the incursion, expelling the drone and lastly, shooting it down.

However, the Chinese foreign ministry dismissed Taiwan’s “drone harassment” complaints as “not worth fussing about”, prompting Taipei to label Beijing as nothing more than thieves.

Video footage of drone missions showing Taiwanese soldiers at their posts, and in one instance throwing rocks at a drone, have been widely circulating on Chinese social media.

Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen poses for a group photo with Navy officers during her visit to Penghu (EPA)
Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen poses for a group photo with Navy officers during her visit to Penghu (EPA)

The Taiwanese president, during a troop inspection on the Penghu islands, criticised China for its drone and other “grey zone” warfare activity and ordered the military to take “necessary and forceful countermeasures” to defend their airspace.

“I want to tell everyone that the more the enemy provokes, the more calm we must be,” Ms Tsai told naval officers.

“We will not provoke disputes, and we will exercise self-restraint, but it does not mean that we will not counter.”

Taiwanese defence officials maintain that the nation will exercise its right to self-defence if Chinese armed forces enter its territory.

“For aircraft and ships that entered our sea and air territory of 12 nautical miles, the national army will exercise the right to self-defence and counter attack without exception,” Lin Wen-Huang, deputy chief of the general staff for operations and planning, told reporters.

China’s prolonged ”high intensity” military patrols near Taiwan and Beijing’s intention of making the Taiwan Strait separating the two sides its “inner sea” would become the main source of instability, the official said.

Amid escalating tensions, two guided-missile US warships sailed through the Taiwan Strait for the first time since Ms Pelosi’s controversial visit to the island last month.

On Sunday, the USS Antietam and USS Chancellorsville were sailing “through waters where high seas freedoms of navigation and overflight apply in accordance with international law,” the US navy’s 7th Fleet in Japan said in a statement.

It added that there had been “no interference from foreign military forces so far”.