Taiwanese forces shot down what they called an “unidentified civilian aerial camera” drone that flew over a Taiwanese-controlled island right off China’s coast on Thursday. The incident comes as China has begun sending drones to surround and harass Taiwan.
Taiwan’s Kinmen Defense Command announced their troops were instructed to issue warnings and then shoot down a drone after it entered their airspace by flying over restricted waters of the Shiyu Island at around 12:30 p.m. local time Thursday. According to the Washington Post, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said the drone fell into the waters surrounding the island and has not been recovered.
Shiyu Island is a small islet that is part of the Kinmen Islands. The Kinmen Islands are a set of Taiwan-held islands located about two miles from Xiamen, a city of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The Kinmen Islands are about 140 miles from the main island of Taiwan.
The downing of the civilian drone comes after drones have repeatedly flown over the Taiwan-held islands in recent days. Taiwan’s Defense Ministry reported its troops had fired warning shots at a group of drones that flew near the Kinmen Islands on Tuesday. The Taiwanese military said another group of drones flew back to Xiamen after Taiwanese troops approached on Wednesday.
Tuesday’s warning shots came shortly after Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen ordered Taiwan’s troops to take “strong countermeasures” against Chinese provocations this week, Reuters reported.
Taiwanese troops also reportedly launched warning flares after another suspected Chinese drone flew near a Taiwan-controlled island in July.
After a Reuters reporter mentioned the Taiwanese Defense Ministry’s new stance on firing at Chinese drones on Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said, “Taiwan is a province of China and it does not have a ‘defense ministry.’ The act of the Taiwan authorities to heighten tensions does not mean anything.”
While Taiwan has governed itself independently of the PRC government since 1949, when the Republic of China (the formal name of the Taiwanese government) fled mainland China after Chinese Communist Party (CCP) forces seized control of the country. Though the PRC has not held control of the island of Taiwan at any point since its establishment in 1949, it considers the island a part of its territory.
Referring to the Kinmen Islands, Zhao said he’s “not surprised” to see Chinese drones flying over “Chinese territory,” the Washington Post reported.
Though Taiwan’s Defense Ministry has described the drones that have flown over the Kinmen Islands as civilian models, some Taiwanese defense researchers consider their use to be a tactic by China to erode Taiwan’s sovereignty claims.
Kuo Yu-jen, director of the Institute for National Policy Research in Taipei told Bloomberg News that “drones are part of China’s gray-zone tactics and cognitive warfare against Taiwan.”
So-called gray zone tactics generally describe a range of behaviors nations may use to gain an advantage over a rival without escalating into a full-fledged armed conflict. These tactics lie in a “gray zone” between traditional diplomacy between nations and open warfare.
“The incursions are an attempt to humiliate Taiwan’s military,” Kuo told Bloomberg. “Taiwan’s government first responded to it cautiously, and only turned tougher when they became more frequent.”