TAIPEI (Reuters) – The increasing frequency of China’s military activities around Taiwan recently has increased the risk that events will “spin out of control” and trigger an accidental clash, the island’s defense minister said on Saturday.
Taiwan said dozens of fighter jets, drones, bombers and other aircraft, as well as warships and the Chinese aircraft carrier Shandong, were operating nearby over the past two weeks.
China, which considers democratically ruled Taiwan its own territory, has conducted many such exercises around the island in recent years to assert its sovereignty claims and put pressure on Taipei.
Asked by reporters on the sidelines of parliament whether there was a risk that a random incident could spark a larger conflict given the frequency of Chinese activities, Taiwan’s Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said: “This is something we are very concerned about.” .”
Warships from China’s Southern and Eastern Theater Commands are operating together off Taiwan’s east coast, he added.
“The risks of activities involving aircraft, ships and weapons will increase, and both sides must be vigilant,” Chiu said.
China has not commented on the exercises surrounding Taiwan and its Defense Ministry did not respond to requests for comment.
Chiu said that when the Shandong was at sea, which Taiwan first reported on Sept. 11, it acted as a “counterforce” in the exercises. Ministry spokesman Sun Li-fang added that China’s Eastern Theater Command troops were the “attacking force” and simulated a combat scenario.
Taiwan’s traditional military planning for a possible conflict is to use its mountainous east coast, particularly the two major air bases there, as a place to regroup and sustain its forces since, unlike the island’s west coast, it does not directly face China.
But China is increasingly flexing its muscles off Taiwan’s east coast and generally demonstrating its ability to operate much further from China’s own coast.
China typically conducts large-scale exercises from July to September, according to Taiwan’s defense ministry.
On Saturday, the ministry said China had largely scaled back its exercises and reported that it had spotted only two Chinese aircraft operating in its air defense zone in the past 24 hours.
Taiwan has repeatedly said it will remain calm and not escalate the situation, but that it will not allow “repeated provocations” from China, whose forces have not yet entered Taiwan’s territorial waters or airspace.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Roger Tung; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)
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