The ROC’s two territories in the region have strategic and political significance, yet both are difficult to defend.
Taiwan’s Coast Guard in March twice conducted live-fire drills on the Pratas Islands – known in Chinese as the “Dongsha” – located in the South China Sea 450 kilometers southwest of Kaohsiung. Such exercises were rare in years past. The Pratas are tiny, without permanent inhabitants, and remote. Among territories administered by Taiwan, only Itu Aba (Taiping Island), part of the Spratly Island archipelago, is more far-flung.
Yet the Pratas’ geography makes them vulnerable to Chinese coercion. Not only are the islets far from Taiwan, they also are flat and devoid of any natural defense positions. Beijing claims the Pratas along with almost all of the 3.5 million-square-kilometer South China Sea, where it has built many military installations. The Pratas are closer to Guangdong Province than to Taiwan – about 260 kilometers from the city of Shantou – and come within Hong Kong’s airspace.
As cross-Strait tensions spiked last year, Chinese military aircraft began routinely breaching Taiwan’s southwest air defense identification zone (ADIZ) between the main island of Taiwan and the Pratas. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) flew 380 times into that part of Taiwan’s ADIZ last year, according to the Institute for National Defense and Security Research (INDSR), a think tank affiliated with Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND). It was the most incursions since 1996, when China fired missiles into the waters near Taiwan to intimidate voters ahead of the country’s first direct presidential election.
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