Should the currently soaring China-Taiwan-US tensions go "hot" - or essentially from a scenario of verbal conflict and threats to a shooting war, this is most likely the direct path it would take: Taiwan's military has warned it will shoot down any Chinese drone deemed a threat that enters its defense zones.
"Taiwan has spotted Chinese drones circling the Taipei-controlled Pratas Islands in the South China Sea and may shoot them down if they stray too close, a government minister said on Wednesday, a move that could dramatically increase tensions with Beijing," reports Reuters.
A top official who heads the governments Ocean Affairs Council which overseas the island's coast guard, Lee Chung-wei, had this to say in his testimony before parliament:
"They have never entered our restricted waters and airspace, they’ve just flown around them at a certain distance," Lee said.
While China recognizes no Taiwanese claims of sovereignty, its aircraft and ships generally stay outside Taiwan’s restricted zone, which extends 6 km from its coast.
Asked how the Coast Guard would react if a Chinese drone entered that restricted zone, Lee said they had rules of engagement.
"After it enters it will be handled under the rules. If we need to open fire, we open fire."
Worrisomely the blunt statements on rules of engagement which serve as a warning to Beijing come precisely at a moment that's seen Chinese aerial incursions grow more brazen.
For example at the end of last month China's Air Force sent no less than 20 aircraft to breach Taiwan's southwest defense sector on a single day, which included four nuclear-capable H-6K bombers along with fighter jet escorts.
Such incursions have recently become a daily event...
15 PLA aircraft (J-10*8, J-16*4, Y-8 ASW and KJ-500 AEW&C ) entered #Taiwan’s southwest ADIZ on Apr. 7, 2021. Please check our official website for more information: https://t.co/p4KOVDDcFI pic.twitter.com/TWYcYsCQcg— 國防部 Ministry of National Defense, R.O.C. 🇹🇼 (@MoNDefense) April 7, 2021
China has also upped its military exercises in contested waters near Taiwan, which it said this week will now be conducted at "regular" intervals. This means it's likely only a matter of time before a Chinese drone from one of these exercises "strays" into Taiwan's airspace or makes a threatening maneuver near a Taiwan coastal defense installation... and no doubt China would respond with a larger attack, sparking a 'hot conflict'.
The question that would remain is whether the US would jump in, or stay on the sidelines in avoidance of a large, disastrous war in the South Pacific.