Taiwan shoots down civilian drone as China tensions simmer

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TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwan shot down a civilian drone that entered its airspace off an island just miles from China’s coast Thursday, raising fears of a military conflict as Taipei pushes back against increased Chinese intimidation.

According to Taiwan’s Defense Ministry, soldiers stationed in Kinmen, a group of islands controlled by Taiwan that sit a few miles opposite China’s east coast, shot down the unidentified drone when it entered restricted airspace over Lion Islet shortly after midday local time. The drone fell into the sea and no wreckage of it was salvaged, the ministry said.

The incident comes after weeks of heightened tensions in the Taiwan Strait following U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei in August, which enraged Beijing. Beijing claims the self-governed democracy of 24 million people is part of China despite the fact that the ruling Chinese Communist Party has never controlled Taiwan.

China’s military extends drills near Taiwan after Pelosi trip

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) launched military exercises simulating a blockade of Taiwan after Pelosi left and fired missiles over its main island. Taiwan’s military has reported an uptick in PLA military aircraft crossing the midpoint of the Taiwan Strait, an informal barrier between Taiwan and China that had been respected for years.

China also appears to be ramping up what are known as gray zone tactics — coercive actions that stop short of outright conflict — aimed at testing the Taiwanese military as well as intimidating citizens. Taiwanese officials reported at least 25 drone incursions during the month of August. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Taiwan’s military reported firing warning shots at drones that approached offshore Taiwanese islands.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian has said that he was “not surprised” to see Chinese drones flying over “Chinese territory.” On Wednesday, Zhao added, “the act of the Taiwan authorities to heighten tensions does not mean anything.”

Su Tzu-yun, a military analyst at the government-funded Institute for National Defense and Security Research in Taiwan, said the increased number of drones entering Kinmen is part of China’s psychological warfare.

“On the one hand it is propaganda aimed at the Chinese audience and on the other it is a way to defeat the morale of the people in Taiwan,” he said.

In a speech Tuesday, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen called on the military to respond to China’s intimidation tactics without risking further escalation. Taiwan’s military stresses it follows a principle of “preparing for war but not seeking war,” but some fear escalation may be inevitable.

“I’m worried about what would the Chinese Communist Party do next. They might send more drones or order civilian vessels to encircle our offshore islands and force us to use heavier weapons to react,” said Chieh Chung, an assistant professor at Tamkang University’s Graduate Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies.

“That could raise the risks of involving other Chinese ships in the vicinity, which could become an excuse for the Chinese to launch larger military operations against Taiwan,” he said.