FEATURE: Radio enthusiasts share warnings to PLA fighter jets

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  • By Yimou Lee and Fabian Hamacher / Reuters, SYUHAI, Taiwan

Shortly after dawn on a beach in southern Taiwan, Robin Hsu’s (許耿睿) iPhone rings with the Air Force’s first radio message of the day as he warns Chinese planes.

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

Taiwan has complained for years about repeated missions by the Chinese air force in its air defense identification zone, which is not territorial airspace, but a wider area from which it monitors threats.

Photo: Fabian Hamacher, Reuters

Although the Department of National Defense details these near-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 recordings. on line.

“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 drive them away.”

The action comes and goes. One day this month, as reporters 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 Taiwan’s shores, the military said.

However, the incursions amount to a low-key attrition war, as the nation frequently scrambles planes to intercept Chinese planes.

The ministry called the flights “grey area” tactics, designed to physically and financially exhaust its air defences.

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

“Chinese Air Force, I am an American aircraft operating in international airspace and exercising these rights as guaranteed by international law,” the transmission said. “I act with respect for 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 country 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 US military aviation units 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, the ministry said.

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

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.

“It’s the People’s Liberation Army of China [PLA]. I do routine exercises. Please do not interrupt my activities,” said a Mandarin message in late 2020, minutes after Taiwan warned a Chinese warplane.

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.

Military experts say the strategic waters, where the largely shallow Taiwan Strait drops to deep, provide submarines with a location for an ambush, attracting anti-submarine and surveillance aircraft.

Su Tzu-yun (蘇紫雲), a researcher at the National Defense and Security Research Institute, said Hsu’s efforts help the public understand that the Chinese threat is “very real and immediate.”

Transparency could also help the two militaries avoid accidental conflict, Su said.

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 the Taiwan Air Force, from Japan and China cross paths 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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