Taiwanese radio enthusiasts tune in as Chinese and US fighter jets invade sensitive skies

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SYUHAI, Taiwan, May 24 (Reuters) – Shortly after dawn on a beach in southern Taiwan, Robin Hsu’s iPhone rang with the first radio message of Taiwanese Air Force Day as he he warns the Chinese planes.

“Attention!” said a voice on the radio, speaking in Mandarin to a Chinese military plane flying 3,500 meters above sea level. “You have entered our Southwest Air Defense Identification Zone and are endangering air security. Turn around and leave immediately.”

Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory, has complained for years about repeated missions by the Chinese air force in its Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), which is not territorial airspace. but a wider area that she monitors for threats.

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Although Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense details these almost daily incursions on its website, including maps depicting the activity, a group of Taiwanese radio enthusiasts like Hsu tuned into related radio traffic and released the online records.

“Chinese communist planes are like flies on your dining table. If you kill them on your plate, your meal is ruined,” said Hsu, 50, a tour guide and military enthusiast. “All you can do is wave them away. »

The action comes and goes. One day in May, as Reuters accompanied Hsu, nine more warnings were issued to Chinese fighter jets after the dawn one.

The Chinese plane did not fire any shots and did not approach the coast of Taiwan, according to the island’s military.

But for Taiwan, such incursions amount to a quiet attrition war, as the island frequently scrambles planes to intercept Chinese planes. Taiwan’s Defense Ministry called the flights “grey area” tactics, designed to physically and financially deplete its air defenses.

Halfway through lunch, Hsu’s iPhone – which is hooked up to a separate radio antenna – tuned in to another broadcast, this time in English.

“The Chinese Air Force, I am an American aircraft operating in international airspace and exercising those rights as guaranteed by international law,” the transmission said. “I act with due regard to the rights and duties of all States.”

On a flight tracking app, a US military supply plane was flying east from southwest Taiwan in the Bashi Channel that separates the island from the Philippines.

A spokesperson for the US Indo-Pacific Command said routine flights are conducted in international airspace in accordance with international law and the language used in the broadcast is consistent with military aviation units American operating in the Indo-Pacific.

On the same day, Taiwan dispatched jets to warn six Chinese aircraft, including two H-6 bombers and a Y-8 anti-submarine plane, according to the island’s defense ministry.

China’s Defense Ministry and Taiwan Affairs Bureau did not respond to requests for comment.

“ON OUR DOORSTEP”

Hsu and his team have set up a dozen welcome points in the hills of Taiwan. With the help of these stations and flight-tracking apps, Hsu counted 317 Taiwanese warnings to Chinese fighter jets from the start of the year to early May, up 3% from the same period a year earlier. early.

“I want people to know that Chinese communist planes are very close to us,” said Hsu, who posts his recordings on a Facebook page that has attracted nearly 16,000 followers and is widely followed by Taiwanese media.

He said making this information public could boost support for Taiwan’s armed forces, which are overshadowed by those of China. Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said it respects any opinion that helps strengthen the defense, but made no further comment.

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

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

Hsu, a former naval radar operator, described a pattern of activity off southwest Taiwan in which US military aircraft, often supply and surveillance aircraft, are being tracked by Chinese aircraft, which are warned by the Taiwanese Air Force.

Military experts say the strategic waters there, where the largely shallow Taiwan Strait drops to deep, provide submarines with a location for an ambush, making it a hotspot for anti-submarine planes. -sailors and surveillance.

Su Tzu-yun, a researcher at Taiwan’s leading military think tank, the National Defense and Security Research Institute, said Hsu’s efforts help the public understand that the threat from China is “very real. and immediate”.

He said transparency could also help the two militaries avoid accidental conflict.

At one of his receiving points, a hilltop cafe overlooking the Taiwan Strait, Hsu said he plans to expand his network to include communications in the skies over northern Taiwan, where Chinese, Japanese air forces and Taiwanese intersect regularly.

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

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Reporting by Yimou Lee and Fabian Hamacher; additional reporting by Idrees Ali in Washington and Beijing Newsroom; Editing by Gerry Doyle

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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