Taiwan will treat Chinese warplane incursions into its airspace as ‘first strike’

Taiwan has warned it will deem any Chinese incursion into its airspace as a “first strike” and vowed to take them seriously as the self-governing territory seeks to deter Beijing from changing its “status quo”.

Taiwan’s defence minister Chiu Kuo-cheng on Wednesday said the definition of a first strike has changed as China is violating its airspace with drones and fighter jets amid a recent spate of closer incursions.

Mr Chiu was replying to a question posed by a legislator who asked whether China’s aggressive stance had changed what Taiwan defined as a “first strike” which would necessitate a response. He replied with a “yes”.

“In the past, we said we won’t be the first to strike, which meant we won’t do it without them firing artillery shells or missiles etc, first,” Mr Chiu said.

“But now the definition has obviously changed, as China used means like drones. So we have adjusted and will view any crossing of aircraft or vessels as a first strike.”

He reiterated that China has “changed the status quo” of the Taiwan Strait and is “establishing a new normal”.

Tensions between Taiwan and China are ratcheting up and reached the highest point in decades after US House speaker Nancy Pelosi defied Chinese president Xi Jinping’s warning and visited the island in August.

The trip enraged China, which claims Taiwan is its breakaway province and opposes any engagement of Taiwanese officials with foreign governments.

As a retaliatory measure, China announced a large-scale military exercise in the Taiwan Strait by firing its first ballistic missiles over Taiwan and sending warplanes across the strait’s dividing line.

Taiwan has so far responded to incursions of its air defence identification zone by issuing warnings, scrambling jets and activating anti-air missile defences.

Taipei will react militarily if Chinese forces invade the 12-nautical-mile (22km) territorial line, according to unnamed Taiwanese officials quoted by Reuters in August. So far, Chinese warships and aircrafts have not invaded the territorial line.

Responding to a question about recent drone flights over Taiwanese-controlled islands, Mr Chiu said its forces will destroy Chinese vessels crossing the line irrespective of a first strike.

“First strike or not, as long as any [Chinese] aircraft or vessel crosses the line, we will destroy it,” he said. “We have made the adjustment now.”

On 1 September, Taiwan shot down a civilian drone near Kinmen island in what it considers as Chinese grey zone warfare tactics, including “drone harassment”.

He said the growing frequency of such incursions has ruptured the concept of a median line, which was drafted by the US to prevent China from firing missiles over Taiwan into Japan’s exclusive economic zone. Beijing has long denied its existence.

He said Taiwan will “try our best to avoid a minor incident that could escalate the situation ... but if China continues with repeated actions, we will show our will.”