Taiwan’s air force has activated its missile system after eight Chinese fighter jets flew into the southwestern part of its air defence identification zone, in an uptick in tensions as Taipei announced a new defence minister and intelligence chief.
Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said on Friday four Chinese J-16s and four JH-7s, as well as an electronic warfare aircraft, flew near the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands in the top part of the South China Sea, into the southwestern area of its air defence identification zone.
The ministry said Taiwan’s air force was scrambled, with “radio warnings issued and air defence missile systems deployed to monitor the activity”.
In recent months China has increased its military activity around the democratic island it claims as Chinese territory. Beijing says it is responding to what it calls “collusion” between Taipei and Washington, Taiwan’s most important international backer and weapons supplier.
Chinese aircraft fly in the southwestern corner of the zone on an almost daily basis, though the last such large-scale incursion was on January 24 when 12 Chinese fighter jets were involved.
There was no immediate comment from China.
Shortly before the ministry’s announcement, Taiwan announced a reshuffle of senior security officials – including a new, US-trained defence minister – to help bolster military modernisation and intelligence efforts.
President Tsai Ing-wen has promised to defend the island and has made modernising its armed forces a priority, including developing a fleet of new submarines, buying new F-16 fighters from the United States and upgrading its warships.
Presidential Office spokesman Xavier Chang told reporters that National Security Bureau Director-General Chiu Kuo-cheng, who graduated from the US Army War College in 1999, would replace Yen De-fa as defence minister.
Chang said the president expected Chiu to complete the next stage of military reforms, including planning for “asymmetric warfare”, focusing on high-tech, mobile weapons designed to make any Chinese attack as difficult as possible.
Chiu’s old job as intelligence chief will be taken by Taiwan’s top China policymaker, Chen Ming-tong, now head of the Mainland Affairs Council.
Chang said Chen was ideally placed for this due to his deep knowledge of China.
“The most important task of the National Security Bureau is to understand and have a grasp on China,” Chang said, adding the newly-appointed officials will formally take up their posts next week.