Taiwan Radio China, US warplanes crowd the sensitive skies

Crowd-sensitive Taiwanese skies 'like flying over a dining table'

Radio enthusiast Robin Hu looks at a computer screen as he observes flight traffic in airspace.


Shortly after dawn on a southern Taiwanese beach, Robin Hoor pins the iPhone with the first radio message of the day for the Taiwan Air Force because it warns Chinese aircraft.

“Attention!” A voice on the radio says Mandarin speaks to a Chinese military aircraft flying at an altitude of 3,500 meters. “You have entered our Southwest Air Defense Identification Zone and are threatening aviation safety. Turn around and leave immediately.”

Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory, has repeatedly complained over the years about Chinese air force operations in its Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), which is not a regional airspace but a vast area that monitors the threat.

Although Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense details this almost-daily intrusion on its website, including a map of activity outlines, a band of Taiwanese radio enthusiasts, such as Hsu, are communicating with the relevant radio traffic and publishing recordings online.

“Chinese communist planes are like flies on your dining table. If you kill them on your plate, your food will be ruined,” said Hu, 50, a tour guide and a military enthusiast. “All you can do is move them away.”

Action ebbs and flows. One day in May, while Reuters was with Hu, nine more warnings were issued on Chinese warplanes after dawn.

The island’s military said the Chinese plane did not fire and did not come close to Taiwan’s coast.

But for Taiwan, such an intrusion is tantamount to a low-key war, as the island often shakes aircraft to intercept Chinese aircraft. Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense has called the flights a “gray zone” strategy, designed to exhaust its air defenses physically and financially.

Halfway to lunch, Hsu’s iPhone – which is connected to a separate radio antenna – this time tracked another broadcast in English.

“Chinese Air Force, I am a United States aircraft operating in international airspace and exercising these rights guaranteed by international law,” Transmission says. “I am fully committed to the rights and duties of all states.”

In a flight tracker app, a U.S. military refueling plane flew from southwest Taiwan to the Bashi Channel east, separating the island from the Philippines.

A spokesman for the US Indo-Pacific Command said regular flights were operated in international airspace under international law and that the language of the broadcast was consistent with US military aviation units operating in the Indo-Pacific region.

On the same day, six Chinese aircraft, including two H-6 bombers and a Y-8 anti-submarine, flew jets to warn, according to Taiwan’s Defense Ministry.

China’s Ministry of Defense and the Taiwan Affairs Office did not respond to a request for comment.

‘At Our Doorstep’

Hu and his team have set up a dozen reception points in the mountains across Taiwan. With the help of these stations and flight-tracking apps, Hsu counted 317 Taiwanese warnings to Chinese warplanes from the beginning of the year to early May, up 3% from the same period a year earlier.

“I want people to know that Chinese communist planes are very close to us,” said Hu, who posted his recording on a Facebook page that attracted about 16,000 followers and was widely tracked by the Taiwanese media.

He said the release of such information could increase support for Taiwan’s armed forces, which are dwarfed by China. Taiwan’s defense ministry says it respects any opinion that helps boost defense, but has no further comment.

On rare occasions, Chinese pilots have responded to Taiwanese radio communications.

“This is the People’s Liberation Army of China. I am doing routine exercises. Please do not interrupt my activities,” Taiwan said in a message to Mandarin in late 2020, minutes after warning a Chinese warplane.

Hsu, a former naval radar operator, described a pattern of activity in southwestern Taiwan where U.S. military aircraft, often fuel and surveillance aircraft, have the shadow of Chinese aircraft, which the Taiwan Air Force warns of.

Military experts say the strategic waters, where the Taiwan Strait descends deep, provide submarines with a position for an ambush, making it a hot spot for anti-submarine and surveillance aircraft.

Su Xu-yun, a research fellow at Taiwan’s top military think tank, the National Defense and Security Research Institute, said Hur’s efforts helped the public understand the Chinese threat “very real and immediate.”

He said transparency could help both forces avoid accidental clashes.

At one of his reception points, at a mountain cafe overlooking the Taiwan Strait, Hu said he plans to expand his network to include communications in Taiwan’s northern skies, where air forces from China, Japan and Taiwan regularly cross paths.

“On the surface, we have peace. But the reality is that Chinese communist planes are flying at our doorsteps every day,” he said. “People need to be aware of the crisis.”

(Except for the title, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and was published from a syndicated feed.)

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