Taiwan's president Tsai Ing-wen says the democratic island's airforce have been ordered to "forcefully disperse" the next Chinese planes to cross into its airspace.
Speaking during an inspection tour of an airforce base in Chiayi on Thursday, Tsai said two fighter jets from the base had scrambled to intercept two J-11 fighter jets belonging to China's People's Liberation Army airforce on Sunday within 185 kilometers of the island.
A further four Taiwanese fighters arrived during a 10-minute standoff, before the Chinese aircraft retreated.
Tsai thanked servicemen and women for protecting the island's sovereignty, and promised she would continue to make it clear that Taiwan wouldn't allow any threats to its sovereignty, democracy or freedom.
Her comments echoed her response to calls from Chinese President Xi Jinping on Jan. 2 to move towards "unification," when she replied that Taiwan's 23 million people have no wish to give up their sovereignty, and that China should first move towards a democratic system.
In the statement, titled “Letter to our Taiwan compatriots,” Xi was insistent that China must be “unified,” saying that Beijing would make no promises not to use military force to annex the island.
After being briefed about the March 31 incident, Tsai condemned the PLA's move as "provocative." She also climbed into the cockpit of an upgraded F-16V fighter jet to learn more about its handling, the island's Central News Agency reported.
'Forcefully disperse any deliberate PLA incursions'
"A few days ago ... the People's Liberation Army flew over the central line of the Taiwan Strait," Tsai said at the base. "They were intercepted immediately, effectively deterring the provocation by the PLA."
"I have ordered our military to forcefully disperse any deliberate PLA incursions over the center line without delay," Tsai said.
She said the incursions could have a serious impact on peace and stability in the region, and that Taiwan would be prepared.
"As president, I will definitely fight alongside you all to the last, to let the whole world know that we will never stop defending our national sovereignty, our democracy and our freedom," she said.
A propaganda film issued by the military said PLA jets "frequently" encroach on Taiwan's' airspace, even taking Chinese journalists and film-makers along with them to document the country's military in action.
"Our principles are not to seek war, but not to fear war, either," the film says. "We are working hard at our training and strengthening our combat readiness on a daily basis."
Russell Hsiao, executive director of the Global Taiwan Institute in Washington, said he believes cross-strait military conflict is unlikely in the near future, and that the PLA's actions seemed to be aimed at affecting Taiwan's political processes. But they underscored the importance of Taiwan's relationship with the United States.
"Given the increased pressure from China on Taiwan, the existence and role of the United States is crucial to maintaining peace and stability in the region," Hsiao said.
Taiwan Relations Act
Yao-Yuan Yeh, assistant professor of international studies at the University of St. Thomas, said the incursions could lead to further arms sales by the U.S. to Taiwan, however.
"The United States recently issued a military procurement order to let Taiwan buy a new F-16 fighter," Yeh told RFA. "Actually, Taiwan is already trying to buy the F-35, the latest generation of U.S. fighter jets."
"This will be helpful for maintaining security in the Taiwan Strait, because the main point of increasing your military preparedness is to deter the other party from invading you," he said.
U.S. national security adviser John Bolton on Monday also hit out at China in a tweet signaling Washington’s support for Taiwan amid the tension between Taipei and Beijing.
“Chinese military provocations won’t win any hearts or minds in Taiwan, but they will strengthen the resolve of people everywhere who value democracy,” Bolton said.
“The Taiwan Relations Act and our commitment are clear.”
Under the Taiwan Relations Act, the U.S. maintains a policy of supplying defensive arms to Taiwan and reserves the right to intervene militarily if China moves to annex the island.
Meanwhile, Taiwan foreign ministry spokesman Andrew Lee pointed to a recent war of words on Twitter, which began when China's ruling party mouthpiece People's Daily newspaper referred to the Taiwanese city of Hualien as "Hualian, China."
"The foreign minister has already made it quite clear on Twitter that this is an utterly ridiculous and arrogant thing to say," Lee said. "
"China never lets up with these petty acts, so we will work hard to deal with them prudently," he said.
Taiwan was ruled as a Japanese colony in the 50 years prior to the end of World War II, but was handed back to the 1911 Republic of China under the Kuomintang (KMT) government as part of Tokyo's post-war reparation deal.
The KMT government then relocated entirely to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong's communists on the mainland. The Republic of China still officially controls the islands of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu, although Beijing has succeeded in isolating it by insisting that its diplomatic partners break ties with Taipei.
The island began a transition to democracy following the death of Chiang Kai-shek's son, President Chiang Ching-kuo, in January 1988, starting with direct elections to the legislature in the early 1990s and culminating in the first direct election of a president, Lee Teng-hui, in 1996.
Reported by Chung Kuang-cheng for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Lin Ping for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.