Taiwan president: Restraint does not mean it will not ‘counter’ China
PENGHU, Taiwan — President Tsai Ing-wen said on Tuesday that Taiwan would show restraint in the face of what she called Chinese provocations, but could take “strong countermeasures” if needed.
Tsai, on a visit to an air and naval base on the Penghu islands in the Taiwan Strait, praised the armed forces for their efforts to protect Taiwan and condemned Beijing for its recent military drills.
China, which claims Taiwan as its territory despite the objections of the government in Taipei, has carried out military exercises around the island this month after a visit by U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“I want to tell everyone that the more the enemy provokes, the more calm we must be,” Tsai told naval officers.
“We will not provoke disputes, and we will exercise self-restraint, but it does not mean that we will not counter.”
She said she had ordered defense ministry to take “necessary and strong countermeasures” to defend the country’s airspace. She did not elaborate.
Taiwan’s government has repeatedly said it has responded calmly to China’s activities, and no shots have been fired between the two sides.
But Taiwan has been upset by Chinese drones flying very close to islands it controls next to China’s coast, which Tsai said was part of Beijing’s “grey zone” warfare.
The warships and fighter jets based at Penghu have been going out armed with live ammunition since China began its exercises this month, officers told reporters on the trip.
Frigate captain Lee Kuang-ping said they had regularly traded radio warnings with Chinese warships.
“Sometimes near the drill zone communist Chinese fishing boats appear, and they provocatively say ‘hit them, hit them!'” Lee said.
Chinese and Taiwanese warships played “cat and mouse” in the Taiwan Strait with some Chinese vessels crossing an unofficial buffer separating the two sides, a source told Reuters, in part of the Chinese drills carried out in reaction to Pelosi’s visit.
On a Facebook post later on Tuesday citing a navy commander in Penghu, Tsai said ships from both sides came as close as 500-600 yards to each other and Taiwan ships “strictly monitored” their Chinese counterparts for six days.
The Chinese military unit responsible for the area adjacent to Taiwan, the People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theater Command, released on Aug. 15 a video of the Penghu islands, apparently taken by China’s air force.
Taiwan’s military termed the video information warfare, accusing China of exaggeration and saying it was not true Chinese forces had come near the islands.
Penghu, a summer tourist destination for its beaches, is close to Taiwan’s southwestern coast, unlike the Taiwan-controlled Kinmen and Matsu islands, which are right next to China’s shores.
Taiwan’s armed forces are well-equipped but dwarfed by China’s. Tsai has been overseeing a modernisation program and has made increasing defence spending a priority.
Asked about the Chinese drone activities, Taiwan defense minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said he could not give details on what Taiwan would do to counter the incursions but he said the military would react based on the principle of “self defense”.
“Don’t make a fuss then when I set off some firecrackers to scare away some sparrows,” he told reporters in Taipei in a veiled warning to China.