Speaking at Parliament, Lee Chung-wei, who heads the Ocean Affairs Council under whose purview the Coast Guard falls, said that they had recently spotted Chinese drones circling the Pratas, though they have not flown over the islands. “They have never entered our restricted waters and airspace, they’ve just flown around them at a certain distance,” Lee said. While China recognises no Taiwanese claims of sovereignty, its aircraft and ships generally stay outside Taiwan’s restricted zone, which extends 6 km from its coast.
Sky News Australia’s Alan Jones said: “Another day, another aggressive manoeuvre by China as it ramps up threats to take control of Taiwan.
“This is not some tiny routine flyover which we saw at the beginning of the year, China gathered together a battle group including its aircraft carrier in waters right next to Taiwan.
“In response, the US Navy has sent in one of its carriers into the South China Sea to conduct what they also call routine operations.
“Japan as well has deployed a destroyer in the area.
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“The hostility and intimidation is building each week in that region and Australia needs to be extremely vigilant.”
In recent month, Taiwan has complained of repeated Chinese air force activity near the islands, which Taiwan’s Coast Guard only lightly defends though there are periodic deployments of marines. There is no permanent civilian population, only occasional visiting scientists.
In October, Hong Kong air traffic controllers warned off a Taiwanese civilian flight flying to the Pratas on a routine weekly supply run, forcing it to turn back.
The Pratas, the closest Taiwan-controlled territory to Hong Kong, have also taken on extra significance since anti-government protests began in the Chinese-run city.
China sent more fighter jets into Taiwan’s air defence zone on Wednesday in a stepped-up show of force around the island Beijing claims as its own, and Taiwan’s foreign minister said it would fight to the end if China attacks.
The democratic self-governed island has complained of repeated military activities by Beijing in recent months, with China’s air force making almost daily forays in Taiwan’s air defence identification zone. On Monday, China said an aircraft carrier group was exercising close to the island.
Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said 15 Chinese aircraft including 12 fighters entered its air defence identification zone, with an anti-submarine aircraft flying to the south through the Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the Philippines.
Taiwan’s air force sent up aircraft to intercept and warn the Chinese away, the ministry added.