Taiwan fired warning shots at three Chinese drones over Kinmen

Foreign Affairs

The Taiwanese military said it used live fire for the first time to repel ‘civilian’ drones from the Chinese mainland that were hovering over Taiwan-controlled islands near the city of Xiamen.

Illustration for The China Project by Derek Zheng

Taiwan’s military yesterday fired warning shots at three drones from China flying around the Taiwan-controlled Kinmen islands, after which the drones returned to the city of Xiamen.

  • According to the Kinmen Defense Command, three “civilian drones” were hovering on Tuesday evening over the islets of Dadan, Erdan, and Shiyu — three Kinmen islets that are within 10 miles of the Chinese city of Xiamen.
  • Taiwanese forces first fired warning flares, before firing a live round at a returning drone. Flares have been used previously, but this was the first time that Taiwan used live fire to warn a Chinese drone.
  • Earlier this month, video footage showing Taiwanese soldiers throwing rocks at a Chinese drone over Kinmen went viral on Chinese social media sites.

Taiwan says drone incursions have increased since China launched unprecedentedly large military drills after U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit. President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文 Cài Yīngwén) has called some of the drone missions “gray zone” warfare activity.

Taipei is promising a tough response to recent Chinese displays of force and to this week’s drone incursions. At a press briefing in Taipei today, Major General Lin Wen-huang (林文皇 Lín Wénhuáng) said: “For PLA aircraft and warships that entered our territorial sea and airspace within 12 nautical miles, our armed forces will exercise the right to self-defense and counterattack.”

  • There are so far “no indications that any Chinese military aircraft or warships have gone within 12 nautical miles of Taiwan’s main island,” says the Wall Street Journal, “though the PLA did designate live-fire zones inside the 12-mile boundary for drills it conducted earlier this month.”

More broadly, Taiwan plans to spend more money on its military. Last week, the Taiwanese government proposed a 13.9% increase in defense spending to about $19.4 billion, or 2.4% of projected GDP, up from the roughly 2.2% Taiwan spent in 2021.

China’s official response to the drone incident has been muted. In response to a question about Taiwan asserting its right to counterattack PLA ships, aircraft, and drones, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhào Lìjiān 赵立坚 today dismissively said (in English, Chinese) that “Taiwan is a province of China and it does not have a ’defense ministry,’” and that “the act of the Taiwan authorities to heighten tensions does not mean anything.”

  • On August 10, China released its first “white paper” on Taiwan under the rule of Xí Jìnpíng 习近平, and it did not renounce the use of force.