Kathmandu, Aug 17
- They were told to avoid ‘misfiring’ when sent to repel fighter jets from the mainland and ‘intruding’ aircraft, according to local media
- Observers say it is a message to both Beijing and Washington that Taipei ‘won’t make any provocative moves’
A US-made F-16V fighter jet is part of a drill over Taichung, Taiwan last month. Taiwanese pilots have been told to avoid triggering any military incidents. Photo: EPA-EFE/Taiwanese defence ministry
Taiwan’s military has reportedly renewed an order to its pilots “not to fire the first shot” amid rising tensions across the strait, according to local media.Beijing-friendly China Times on Monday reported that the self-ruled island’s air force had told its pilots to avoid “misfiring” when they were dispatched to repel fighter jets from the mainland and other aircraft “intruding” into Taiwan’s airspace.
“Only experienced pilots will be sent to take the lead in any operations monitoring the [intruding] warplanes, to avoid misfiring,” the report said, quoting Taiwanese military sources. “In order to strictly avoid accidents that may trigger military incidents, pilots have been instructed that they cannot fire the first shot without a direct order from the air force command,” the report said. “Any pilots who violate the order will face legal action [from the military].”
A spokesman for Taiwan’s defence ministry declined to comment on the report.Beijing considers Taiwan to be part of mainland territory, and has not ruled out the use of force to bring the island under its control.
Observers in Taiwan said Taipei made a similar commitment to Washington during the 1995-96 cross-strait crisis, but the latest order was more about sending a message that the independence-leaning Tsai Ing-wen government would not antagonise Beijing ahead of the US presidential election in November.
The People’s Liberation Army staged a series of war games in the Taiwan Strait in 1995 to warn then Taiwanese president Lee Teng-hui against straying from the one-China principle which states that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China, and ahead of the island’s election the following year.
Former Taiwanese defence minister Andrew Yang Nien-dzu said Taiwan’s pilots followed strict discipline around engaging with enemy forces.
“This is almost a cardinal rule – that Taiwan will not fire the first shot,” Yang said.
“The [air force] might want to reiterate this now, to remind the frontline pilots,” he added. Alexander Huang Chieh-cheng, a former deputy minister on Taiwan’s policymaking Mainland Affairs Council, said the renewed order was meant as a “political, friendly message to both Washington and Beijing”.
“The order could be a move to indicate that the current administration is quite self-restrained and won’t make any provocative moves that may lead to conflict in the Taiwan Strait,” Huang said. “As [US President Donald Trump’s] administration is also busy with his re-election campaign, Washington would not want Taipei to make any trouble.”
Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie said Taipei’s “restraint” could be seen as a response to an essay published by the US Naval Institute, which said Chinese President Xi Jinping might aim to retake the island as early as mid-January. The essay, written by former CIA deputy director Michael Morell and retired admiral James Winnefeld, said the PLA’s would be able to complete such an operation within three days.
“If the PLA can take Taiwan back just within three days, it will be impossible for the US military to respond,” Li said. “That’s why Washington has urged Taiwan to stick to the ‘don’t fire the first shot’ rule – to avoid stirring trouble in the current highly sensitive moment.”
Hong Kong-based military commentator Song Zhongping said the renewed order indicated that Taiwan did not want to bear responsibility for “initiating” conflict with the mainland.
“The Taiwanese military does not want to fire the first shot, and the US will not allow them to do that because it would not be in Washington’s best interest,” Song said. “The US prefers to maintain the status quo across the Taiwan Strait: no unification, no independence, and no use of force.”