Taiwan Tells China It Will Not Be Worn Down in War of Attrition

Taiwan's defense minister said on Monday that China intended to slowly exhaust the island's forces with nonstop bomber and fighter jet flights into its air defense identification zone (ADIZ).

Chiu Kuo-cheng told reporters ahead of a parliamentary hearing that the island possessed the necessary countermeasures to withstand Beijing's "gray-zone" war of attrition involving all measures short of armed conflict.

His comments came after Taiwan's air force scrambled interceptors to head off 27 People's Liberation Army (PLA) aircraft in its surrounding skies on Sunday. The fleet included J-10, J-11 and J-16 fighter aircraft as well as H-6 nuclear-capable bombers. It also marked the first appearance of a Y-20 refueling tanker, which traveled from the southwest to the southeast of the island.

Taiwan's defense chief said the current state of affairs with regard to the PLA were "particularly severe—it almost never stops." "The aim, invariably, is to slowly wear [us] out," he added.

"They want to demonstrate they have this capability," Chiu said. "Our armed forces are demonstrating [...] we have the capacity to counter it."

Taipei has reported increasingly regular PLA sorties into the southwest corner of its ADIZ, a type of self-declared airspace that extends beyond territorial boundaries, used for the identification of approaching civilian and military aircraft. Neighboring China, Japan and South Korea all have established their own ADIZs, which are not regulated under international law.

Taiwan's Defense Ministry began publicly reporting ADIZ incursions in September 2020, before revealing that there had been around 380 PLA sorties throughout the whole of last year. Taiwan does not report the equally frequent U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force aircraft that appear daily in its surrounding skies—mostly for the purposes of conducting reconnaissance on Chinese forces.

With Taiwan reporting an additional four ADIZ intrusions on Tuesday, November closes as the second-busiest month on record with 168 Chinese military flights. Analysis of publicly available data shows there have been 886 PLA sorties this year—more than double 2020's figure—and 1,056 flights since records began last September.

Taiwan Can Counter China Flights: Defense Minister
A Y-20 strategic transport plane flies ahead of the 11th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition on October 29, 2016, in Zhuhai, Guangdong, China. Getty Images

Asked on Monday about the recent spike in Chinese military activity, Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told lawmakers: "We will never bow to the Chinese pressure. Never. Never. Never."

The administration of President Joe Biden, and former President Donald Trump before him, have quietly signaled military support for Taiwan in their own way. In the final year of the Trump administration, U.S. Navy destroyers made 13 passages through the Taiwan Strait, drawing sharp condemnation from China each time.

The Biden administration has sanctioned 11 Taiwan Strait transits this year, most recently by the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Milius last week, just days after Biden's 3.5-hour summit with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.