The nation’s armed forces remain at “normal combat readiness status,” despite tensions across the Taiwan Strait and a foreign magazine calling Taiwan “the most dangerous place on Earth,” Deputy Minister of National Defense Chang Che-ping (張哲平) said yesterday.
The military continuously adjusts the number of troops on alert depending on developments in the security situation around Taiwan, Chang told a meeting of the legislature’s Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Johnny Chiang (江啟臣), who is also a legislator, asked Chang about the cover story in the latest issue of The Economist, which called Taiwan “the most dangerous place on Earth” and “an arena for rivalry between China and the United States.”
Photo: Chen Yu-fu, Taipei Times
Cross-strait tensions have risen in the past few months as China’s military increased the intensity and frequency of maneuvers by its aircraft and warships around Taiwan, Chang said.
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army has conducted at least 270 sorties into airspace and waters near Taiwan, Ministry of National Defense data showed.
Chang said the risk of an armed conflict in the Strait would be high if the US and China fail to ease the tensions between them, or Taiwan and China fail to engage in dialogue to build mutual trust.
To prevent the occurrence of an unplanned military encounter, all Taiwanese military personnel receive comprehensive briefings before going on missions, Chang told lawmakers, adding that the nation closely cooperates on intelligence with like-minded countries.
“Normal combat readiness status” is one of two general alert levels in the military, and remains active during peacetime and natural disasters when civilian authorities need military support.
The other level is “defensive combat status” and is activated when an enemy attack is imminent or during other emergencies.
When separately asked by reporters about the issue, Minister of National Defense Chiu Kuo-cheng (邱國正) said it is true that Taiwan’s situation is serious, “but we should not bound around at the suggestion of others.”
Chiu also vowed to improve communication with the coast guard and make improvements after a Chinese man on Friday crossed the Strait on a rubber dinghy undetected.
The 33-year-old man, surnamed Zhou (周), said he bought the inflatable boat on the Chinese e-commerce Web site Taobao and traveled in it for 10 hours from Shishi in China’s Fujian Province to the Port of Taichung, where he was detained by the coast guard.
He is being held in quarantine awaiting further investigation, the coast guard said.
Answering lawmakers’ questions at the committee meeting yesterday, Navy Command Chief of Staff Chiang Cheng-kuo (蔣正國) said it is difficult to detect the kind of small raft piloted by Zhou.
Coast guard radars might have detected the boat, he said.
However, naval vessels and coastal radar systems could not detect it, as it was likely obscured by echoes caused by waves, he added.
If Zhou had arrived in daytime, he would have been spotted by the navy or fishers, Chiang said, adding that thermal imaging could be used at night.
Responding to criticism that the incident represents a serious breach of national security, National Security Bureau Deputy Director-General Hu Mu-yuan (胡木源) said the authenticity of Zhou’s claims are still under investigation.
An enemy would look to exploit gaps in the nation’s defenses no matter what, Hu said, adding that security officials would examine any potential vulnerabilities.
Additional reporting by Aaron Tu and Chen Yu-fu
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