Taiwan Will 'Counterattack' if Chinese Forces Enter Territory: Official

Taiwan's armed forces would "counterattack without exception" if Chinese forces operating around the island were to enter its territorial sea or airspace, an official said Wednesday.

People's Liberation Army (PLA) warplanes and warships have been conducting military maneuvers in and around the Taiwan Strait at a "high intensity" since the beginning of August, the Taiwanese defense official said. Beijing means to "exhaust the capacity of Taiwan's countermeasures" and "paralyze the Taiwanese public's sense of apprehension," they said in a briefing in Taipei.

"We have seen such activities from [the People's Republic of China] reduced but persistent," spokesperson Sun Li-fang said at the Taiwanese defense ministry's first bilingual briefing for foreign press.

China, which claims Taiwan as its own, has framed its exercises as a response to Nancy Pelosi's recent trip to the island, the first such visit by a serving House speaker in 25 years.

Taiwan to 'Counterattack' China Military Incursions: Official
A Taiwanese F-16 Fighting Falcon lands at Chiashan Air Force Base on August 6, 2022, in Hualien, Taiwan. Taiwan’s defense ministry said the island’s troops would “counterattack” if Chinese forces breached the island’s territorial sea or airspace. Annabelle Chih/Getty Images

China conducted a week of unprecedented war games that included the firing of ballistic missiles into the waters surrounding Taiwan. After the drills concluded, the PLA continued to fly and sail in regular patrols around the island, officials said. Chinese warplanes now fly dozens of sorties near Taiwan daily, including multiple sorties across the unofficial, but previously upheld, "median line" in the center of the strait.

So far, PLA operations have remained outside of Taiwan's 12-nautical mile territorial sea and airspace, and don't appear to have crossed into the island's 24-nautical mile contiguous zone. Either move would be considered a further escalation of military tensions.

"The closer the incursions are to Taiwan, the stronger our countermeasures will be. We will use naval and air forces and coastal fire to expel PLA forces that enter our sea and airspace," said Lin Wei-huang, the ministry's deputy chief of the general staff for operations and planning.

"As for PLA aircraft and vessels that enter our 12-nautical mile territorial sea and airspace, the armed forces will exercise the right to self-defense, and counterattack without exception," he told reporters.

Taiwan's public, which elects its own democratic government, has shown fading interest in being ruled from Beijing, while successive Chinese leaders, including President Xi Jinping, have refused to rule out the use of force to achieve their objective of a political union.

On August 25, the Cabinet of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen proposed the country's largest defense budget rise in years, with additional funds earmarked for U.S.-made fighter aircraft and domestically produced missiles.

In the weeks since the intense PLA drills began, Taiwan-controlled islands near the Chinese mainland have detected overflights by what appeared to be commercial drones from a nearby Chinese city. Footage circulating on Chinese social media showed images of what Taipei later confirmed was a Taiwanese guard post.

Taiwan's defense ministry said its soldiers, who previously used flares and other measures to expel the incursions, were given orders to fire warning shots with live rounds for the first time on Tuesday.

Addressing troops on Penghu, another offshore island closer to Taiwan proper, Tsai said the drones were part of Beijing's "gray zone" warfare against Taipei.

"The more provocative the enemy is, the more calm we must be," she said. "We will not give the other side an inappropriate excuse to create conflict. We will not provoke disputes, and we will exercise self-restraint, but that does not mean we will not respond."

Taiwan to 'Counterattack' China Military Incursions: Official
President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan, center, arrives at a naval base on the island of Penghu on August 30, 2022. Amid rising military tensions with China, Tsai said Taiwan's forces would exercise self-restraint, but vowed to respond if its territory is violated. Sam Yeh/AFP via Getty Images

China's foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian dismissed the drone action. "Chinese drones flying over China's territory—what's all the fuss about?" he asked.

Taiwan Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said Tuesday that Taiwanese troops would adjust their response protocols.

"Don't make a fuss when I set off some firecrackers to scare off some sparrows," he told reporters in Taipei.

White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told a virtual briefing on Monday that Beijing was "trying to turn up the temperature to a degree where it becomes sort of this new normal."

He said he had not seen and could not comment on reports of drone incursions on Taiwan-controlled islands.

"But if it's true, it would appear to be in keeping with this effort by the PRC to, again, establish sort of a new normal of their activity."

"We're not going to accept whatever new normal the Chinese want to put in place," Kirby said.

American warships and warplanes resumed routine navigations and overflights in international waters and airspace in the Taiwan Strait over the weekend.