Taipei and Beijing have traded barbs over a recent string of drone sorties that have flown from the Chinese mainland to an outlying Taiwanese island, some surveilling military outposts.
Photos and video taken by Chinese drones of the Kinmen islands have been circulating on both Taiwan and Chinese social media, with one video showing Taiwanese soldiers hurling rocks at one to drive it off.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said it was not “anything worth making a fuss about” as the drones were “flying around Chinese territory” when asked to comment on the videos on Monday.
But that response triggered an angry riposte from Taipei which compared the drone harassment to the acts of a “thief.”
“Those who come uninvited are called thieves, whether they are breaking through the door or peeping from the air, the people of Taiwan do not welcome such thieves,” Taiwan’s foreign ministry said in a statement late Monday.
“The authoritarian expansionist government of the Chinese Communist Party has always made harassing other countries a daily routine, and therefore its title of a ‘regional troublemaker’ is well-deserved.”
Taiwan lives under constant threat of invasion by China, which claims the self-ruled democratic island as part of its territory to be seized one day—by force if necessary.
Drone incursions over Kinmen have increased at the same time Beijing embarked on a show of force in retaliation for US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan earlier this month.
For a week after Pelosi’s visit, China sent warships, missiles, and fighter jets into the waters and skies around Taiwan, its largest and most aggressive exercises since the mid-1990s.
It is not clear who is flying the drones from the Chinese mainland.
Kinmen lies just a few kilometres off China’s coast meaning a civilian could feasibly fly a commercial drone that distance.
However, China has also stepped up so-called “greyzone” tactics against Taiwan in recent years to pressure the island.
Greyzone is a term used by military analysts to describe aggressive actions by a state that stop short of open warfare and can use civilians.
Civilian Chinese fishing and sand dredging vessels, for example, have increasingly entered into waters around Taiwanese outlying islands in recent years.
China has also ramped up incursions by warplanes into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone, an area it previously tended to avoid.
Taiwan’s defense ministry has so far only fired flares to warn off the drones but it has said it will take “necessary counter measures” including shooting down the drones if needed.