After Ladakh, China eyeing Taiwan Islands?

Dongsha Islands (Source: Focus Taiwan)

New Delhi (NVI): At a time when the Chinese Army is locked in a face-off with India in Ladakh, Taiwan is beefing up its security in its Dongsha Islands, amid apprehensions that the Chinese PLA may take control of these.

Taiwan is sending its Marine Corps to these outlying islands in the South China Sea and considering plans to deploy military dirigibles to offshore islands, according to local media reports.

The airships could serve to complement the military’s reconnaissance system by providing early warnings to allow for a swift response to threats.

The proposal comes at a time when Chinese warplanes are menacing Taiwan’s airspace on a regular basis, with at least eight sightings recorded over the past two weeks, the Taiwan News reported.

The “provocative” Chinese manoeuvres have intensified since the coronavirus pandemic began, with one coinciding with an unusual flight by a U.S. military aircraft earlier this month, it said.

The Dongsha Islands are a group of strategically important atolls 310 kms southeast of Hong Kong and are reportedly a target of PLA drills set to take place in August. The Taiwan Marine Corps has been reassigned to the islands for training and defence.

The Taiwan Marine Corps will be reassigned to the Dongsha Islands (Pratas Islands) for short-term training programmes, the report said, quoting the Ministry of National Defence (MND).

Taiwan’s move comes amid heightened concerns over the islands’ combat preparedness following a report by Kyodo News last month that the PLA’s Southern Theatre Command will be conducting a simulated invasion of the islands involving large-scale manoeuvres.

Prior to the year 2000, the Marine Corps was deployed on the Dongsha Islands, armed with two guided-missile equipment carriers and a LAADS (Low-Altitude Aircraft Detection System) air defence radar system. The Coast Guard took over its defences in 2000, when relevant arms were pulled back over maintenance difficulties, report said.

The MND has stressed that Coast Guard personnel will receive adequate training before they are stationed on the islands, and exercises are constantly conducted to ensure their combat readiness, according to Taiwan’s Central News Agency (CNA).

The lighter-than-air aircraft, planned to be deployed, could be used for reconnaissance and surveillance purposes on the Pengjia Islet in the East China Sea and the Dongsha Islands in the South China Sea. The Ministry of National Defence is studying those currently in service in the U.S., Singapore, and the Philippines, reported Up Media.

In order for dirigibles to be deployed around Pengjia Islet, which lies to the north of Taiwan, they must be able to remain aloft for 15 days, with a surveillance range of 200 kilometers.

In the Dongsha Islands to the southwest, the aerostats are expected to hover in the skies for one month, carry equipment weighing up to 1,600 kilograms, and have a surveillance range of 600 km.

The strengthening of defence measures by Taiwan comes at a time when China is locked in a stand-off with India in Ladakh after it transgressed into the Indian territory across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) over a month back. The Chinese actions highlight its expansionist designs.