A new threat has emerged for Taiwan’s military which faces Chinese civilian trolling through drones. They are flying drones over a military site on a nearby Taiwan-controlled island, Kinmen.
The 15-second video clip is among a number of videos that have popped up recently on the Chinese social media site Weibo and show what appear to be civilian-grade drones trolling Taiwan’s military. The island’s military later confirmed these mysterious menaces are indeed civilian drones from mainland China, reported CNN.
The videos show detailed, drones’-eye footage of military installations and personnel on Taiwan’s outlying Kinmen islands. The drone incursions come amid increased tensions following a visit by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan, a self-governing democracy of nearly 24 million people, in August, reported CNN.
That trip angered China’s ruling Communist Party — which views Taiwan as part of its territory, despite never having governed it — and it responded by launching unprecedented military drills around the island, sending warplanes across the Taiwan Strait and firing missiles over the main island.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has claimed the drone incursions are the latest ratcheting up of this pressure; a new front in China’s “grey-zone” warfare tactics to intimidate the island. On September 1, after warning it would exercise its rights to self-defence, Taiwan shot down a drone for the first time.
Accompanied by soundtracks ranging from ballads to dance music and plenty of emojis, the clips seem designed to highlight the unpreparedness of Taiwan’s troops.
One video captures the moment four soldiers from Taiwan realize they are being watched by a drone that’s hovering in the sky above their guard post. Caught off guard, they respond by throwing stones at the intruding drone, which zooms in so close you can make out the faces of individual soldiers.
Video footage of these bizarre encounters has gone viral on Chinese social media and is attracting hundreds of comments mocking Taiwan’s military. The clips seem to expose a stunning vulnerability: the ability of Chinese drones to photograph restricted military sites in Taiwan at any time, reported CNN.
Analysts say the footage being beamed across the internet — showing military sites and personnel in fine detail for all the world to see — is at best embarrassing for Taiwan and at worst, outright dangerous.
Meanwhile, Beijing has brushed off the drone incursions as “no big deal.” Questioned about civilian-grade drones flying in the Kinmen area, a spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently responded: “Chinese drones flying over China’s territory — what’s there to be surprised at?”
Fuelling suspicions, China hasn’t removed the videos from its otherwise highly-censored internet or prevented the drones from travelling through its own highly controlled airspace, reported CNN.
Isabel Hilton, an international journalist and longtime China watcher, said it was impossible to know who was piloting the drones — and that was precisely what made them so well-suited to “deniable harassment.”
The machines appear to be civilian models, but could “be operated by anybody, including the military,” said Hilton, the founder of China Dialogue, suggesting that “government agencies in the guise of a popular movement” could be behind the controls, reported CNN.
Hilton drew a parallel to events in the South China Sea, where China has been accused of using a maritime militia to enforce its territorial claims by swarming disputed areas with hundreds of what are ostensibly civilian fishing boats.
“This is all very demoralizing for Taiwanese, and it’s kept at a level designed not to let Taiwan relax, not to let Taiwan forget the threat,” Hilton said.
Taiwan has faced the threat of invasion ever since the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, when Chiang Kai-shek’s defeated Nationalists fled there to set up a new government, having been chased out of the mainland by Mao Zedong’s Communist Party.
More than 70 years later, the Communist Party continues to view Taiwan as something akin to a breakaway province that must be “reunified” with the mainland at all costs — and it has made clear it is prepared to use force, if necessary, to fulfill that objective.
If China were to invade, the Kinmen islands — most of which have been controlled by Taiwan since the end of the war — would make a tempting first target. Lying just a few miles from the mainland Chinese city of Xiamen — and hundreds of miles from Taiwan’s capital Taipei — they are acutely vulnerable, reported CNN.
For Taiwan, the problem is that the nature of that invading force is changing. The Kinmen islands’ proximity to the mainland puts them well within the range of commercially available drones, which are cheap and plentiful in China, home to the world’s second-largest market for the machines and no shortage of potential operators among its population of 1.4 billion.
Shortly after the series of drone incursions, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defence announced that the island would deploy a new anti-drone system at military bases beginning next year. It also announced plans to boost its overall defence budget to a record USD 19.4 billion, a 13.9 per cent increase over 2022.
Taiwan, meanwhile, appears to have realized that ignoring drones and their mystery operators is not an option. Within days of shooting down its first drone, it released a series of pictures to the media showcasing its shiny new anti-drone weapons. It appeared to be sending its own propaganda message: next time the drones come calling, it will be ready. (ANI)