Taiwan said a Chinese military reconnaissance drone entered its air defence zone on Monday, the latest incursion as relations between the two neighbours remain tense.
The drone, identified by Taipei’s defence ministry as a BZK-007 vehicle, crossed into the southwest corner of the island’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ) along with eight Chinese warplanes.
Taiwan’s ADIZ is much larger than its airspace and overlaps with part of China’s ADIZ and even includes some of the mainland.
China has dramatically increased incursions into Taiwan’s southwestern ADIZ over the last two years, but the use of military drones is rare.
The last time Taiwan’s military reported one was October 2020, one month after it started making data on the frequency of Chinese sorties public.
Monday’s incursion came after Taiwanese soldiers on a tiny islet just off China’s mainland shot down an unidentified commercial drone last week.
That was the first time Taiwanese forces have downed a drone, following a sudden spate of incursions by small, commercially available drones in recent weeks.
In contrast, the BZK-007 is a much larger, military drone built by the Guizhou Aircraft Industry Corporation that can carry out long-distance flights and boasts much more sophisticated reconnaissance devices.
Taiwan’s 23 million people live under constant threat of invasion by China, which claims the self-ruled, democratic island as part of its territory to be taken one day — by force if necessary.
Beijing’s sabre-rattling has grown more pronounced under President Xi Jinping, China’s most authoritarian and internationally assertive leader in a generation.
Last month China sent warships, missiles and fighter jets into the waters and skies around Taiwan, its largest and most aggressive exercises since mid-1990s.
Those exercises were a protest against a visit to Taipei by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Taiwan also saw a record 446 air incursions by Chinese warplanes in August.
Crossings by Chinese warplanes of the median line, an unofficial barrier between the two sides running down the Taiwan Strait, have also become near-daily since Pelosi’s visit.
In 2020, China flew a total of 380 sorties, according to an AFP database using Taiwanese military reports.
By last year that jumped to 969.
So far this year Chinese planes have made at least 1,100 individual incursions into the ADIZ.