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Taiwan raises concerns about situation ‘getting out of hand’ with China drills

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A fishing boat sails past a Chinese warship during a military drill off the Chinese coast near Fuzhou, Fujian Province, across from the Taiwan-controlled Matsu Islands, China, April 11, 2023.
Thomas Peter | Reuters

The increased frequency of China’s military activities around Taiwan recently has raised the risk of events “getting out of hand” and sparking an accidental clash, the island’s defence minister said on Saturday.

Taiwan has said that the past two weeks has seen dozens of fighters, drones, bombers and other aircraft, as well as warships and the Chinese carrier the Shandong, operating nearby.

China, which views democratically governed Taiwan as its own territory, has in recent years carried out many such drills around the island, seeking to assert its sovereignty claims and pressure Taipei.

Asked by reporters on the sidelines of parliament whether there was a risk of an accidental incident sparking a broader conflict given the frequency of the Chinese activities, Taiwan Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said: “This is something we are very worried about”.

Warships from China’s southern and eastern theatre commands have been operating together off Taiwan’s east coast, he added.

“The risks of activities involving aircraft, ships, and weapons will increase, and both sides must pay attention,” Chiu said.

China has not commented about the drills around Taiwan, and its defence ministry has not responded to requests for comment.

Chiu said that when the Shandong was out at sea, which Taiwan first reported on Sept. 11, it was operating as the “opposing force” in the drills. Ministry spokesman Sun Li-fang added that China’s Eastern Theatre Command forces were the “attacking force”, simulating a battle scenario.

Taiwan’s traditional military planning for a potential conflict has been to use its mountainous east coast, especially the two major air bases there, as a place to regroup and preserve its forces given it does not directly face China unlike the island’s west coast.

But China has increasingly been flexing its muscles off Taiwan’s east coast, and generally displaying its ability to operate much further away from China’s own coastline.

China normally performs large-scale exercises from July to September, Taiwan’s defence ministry has said.

On Saturday the ministry said China had largely dialled back its drills, reporting that over the previous 24 hour period it had only spotted two Chinese aircraft operating in its air defence zone.

Taiwan has frequently said that it would remain calm and not escalate the situation, but that it won’t allow “repeated provocations” from China, whose forces have so far not entered Taiwan’s territorial seas or airspace.

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