The military and national security apparatus was in “full control” when two Chinese Sukhoi-27 fighters crossed the centerline in the Taiwan Strait on June 29, the Ministry of National Defense (MND) said yesterday.
The Chinese-language newspaper United Daily News reported that one of the two Chinese fighter aircraft had crossed the theoretical median maritime border between Taiwan and China while allegedly pursuing a U-2S high-altitude US reconnaissance aircraft.
Two Taiwanese F-16 aircraft intercepted the Su-27s, which subsequently returned to Chinese airspace, the report said.
According to the report, the U-2 was based out of a US base in Osan, South Korea, but took off from Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, to execute a surveillance mission.
Inquiries to a spokesperson at the US Department of Defense to confirm the presence of a U-2 aircraft near the Taiwan Strait on June 29 remained unanswered by press time yesterday.
The ministry confirmed the veracity of the report, but added that the incident was an isolated case and was not regarded as a provocative act.
The military is closely monitoring the activities of Chinese aircraft in the airspace over the Taiwan Strait, it said in a statement.
“When any emergency situation is detected, the military will immediately send the [Taiwanese] air force to the area to deliver warnings,” the statement said.
Legislators yesterday differed on the significance of the incident.
The intrusion was an act of “aggression, demonstration, provocation and unfriendliness,” Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus whip Tsai Huang-liang (蔡煌瑯) said at a press conference, adding that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and the ministry should file a protest with Beijing.
The act was “an infringement of our sovereignty,” DPP legislators Wong Chin-chu (翁金珠) and Chen Ting-fei (陳亭妃) said, urging Ma and Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) to protest.
The ministry handled the incident in accordance with standard operation procedure, Presidential Office spokesperson Fang Chiang Tai-chi (范姜泰基) said.
“With current cross-strait relations the best they have been in decades, I don’t think China sent those fighter aircraft to provoke Taiwan. It did so to warn the US against gathering intelligence along its southeastern coast,” Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lin Yu-fang (林郁方) said.
It might be acceptable for Taipei to express its displeasure to China about the incident, but lodging a protest would be unnecessary, Lin added.
“The incident was just a case that has sometimes occurred during the past decades and no armed aerial confrontation ensued,” Lin said.
Lin said he did not support the idea of Taiwan negotiating the creation of a confidence building mechanism (CBM) with China as a result of the incident.
“The time is not right for CBM talks … and that would worry the US,” he said.
“It’s not unusual for soldiers on the front line to commit such mistakes,” said KMT Legislator Shuai Hua-min (帥化民), a retired army general.
Shuai said Taipei should refrain from overreacting because “the centerline has always been an invisible line and the Chinese aircraft did not make their way deep into Taiwanese territory.”
“It comes down to the pilot’s behavior. Taiwanese aircraft were scrambled and the Chinese side turned back. That’s about it militarily,” he said.
If Taiwan overplays the significance of the incident, it would only stir up more trouble, Shuai said, adding that a similar situation occurred every day after former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) defined the cross-strait relationship as “state-to-state” in nature.