Taiwan is keeping a close eye on military vessels passing through waters near the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) in the East China Sea, a defense official said yesterday in Taipei, a day after Chinese vessels were seen moving toward the islands.
“We are on top of the situation,” Minister of National Defense Kao Hua-chu (高華柱) told the media before attending a hearing at the legislature’s Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee.
Seven Chinese military vessels were reportedly spotted moving toward the disputed Diaoyutais on Tuesday and the development was the focus of the hearing.
The islands, which are claimed by Taiwan and China, are administered by Japan.
Fielding questions from lawmakers, Kao reiterated that the military has been monitoring the waters near the archipelago and that surveillance of the Diaoyutais has been strengthened amid escalating tensions in the region.
The ministry had a clear picture of the movements of the Chinese military vessels over the past few days, Kao said, adding that the fleet sailed no closer than about 74km from the Diaoyutais.
The Chinese fleet was conducting a regular drill in the Pacific Ocean and came as close as 150km off the eastern coast of Taiwan, Kao said.
Given recent developments in the region, the military will remain alert and beef up its combat-readiness, Kao added.
Asked whether his ministry would protest China’s military vessels sailing in waters near Taiwan, Kao said: “We will lodge a protest if they enter our territory.”
Tensions over the Diaoyutais flared up after Japan moved to nationalize and strengthen its sovereignty claim over the island chain by buying three of the islets from their owner on Sept. 11, spurring protests in Taiwan and China.
Kao told lawmakers that the current situation was unlikely to develop into a military conflict.
Meanwhile, Kao said the military is coordinating its efforts with the Coast Guard Administration.
He pledged that the ministry would work with the administration to safeguard the rights of Taiwanese fishermen operating in waters near the Diaoyutais.
The uninhabited Diaoyutais, known as the Senkakus in Japan, lie about 220km northeast of Taiwan.