China cracks down on civilian drones near Taiwan islands
China cracks down on civilian drones near Taiwan islands

China cracks down on civilian drones near Taiwan islands

A Chinese city near front-line forces in Taiwan this week restricted the use of commercial drones in an attempt to reduce the risk of an accidental confrontation amid heightened tensions.

Authorities in Xiamen, a port city in eastern China’s Fujian province, have required all sales of civilian drones to be documented with customer identification. Buyers must also register new aircraft on a portal run by the country’s civil aviation authority, according to a city-wide notification on Tuesday.

Residents planning to use drones in the city will need to approve a flight plan with local air traffic authorities at least 24 hours in advance. Drones can only fly on authorized routes and are now prohibited from accessing airspace over several public spaces, according to the announcement.

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The wreckage of an old tanker is seen on Ou Cuo Beach in Taiwan’s Kinmen Islands, which is just two miles off the coast of mainland China, August 11, 2022. The Chinese port city of Xiamen decided to restrict the use of commercial drones on September 20 after nearby Kinmen has reported a number of unidentified flybys in recent weeks.
SAM YEH/AFP via Getty Images

The regulations include provisions for fines of 1,000 Chinese yuan ($140) for violators or 5,000 yuan for companies that break the rules, said the notice, which was issued jointly by Xiamen police, its weather bureau and the regional authority of civil aviation.

The restrictions – “to ensure public safety and maintain order in Xiamen’s airspace” – come weeks after Taiwan’s outlying territories of Kinmen and Matsu reported a spate of commercial drone overflights. Both groups of islands lie across the Taiwan Strait, about two miles from Xiamen.

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Images of civilian drones overlooking guard posts in Kinmen, where Taiwanese troops shot down at least one aircraft on September 1, appeared on social media platforms such as Weibo and Douyin – China’s version of TikTok.

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry, which sent anti-drone weapons to Kinmen and Matsu in August, said earlier this month that military officers on the offshore islands are no longer required to report sightings of commercial drones up the chain of command.

Taiwanese soldiers would try to expel unidentified drones with flares and signal jammers, but are also allowed to engage them with 7.62mm or smaller firearms, the ministry said.

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Already heated tensions across the strait threatened to come to a head in August after China launched an unprecedented series of war games around Taiwan in response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei. Beijing claims the island as its own and is rapidly developing the military means to take it by force if necessary.

Experts do not foresee a Chinese invasion in the next decade; most believe Beijing lacks a coherent long-term plan to achieve its goal of political control over Taiwan. However, there are growing fears that an accident or unintended military collision could turn the cross-strait friction into a fire war.

It was never clear whether the Chinese military was involved in the commercial drone overflights, although experts in Taiwan suspected at least Beijing’s tacit approval as part of a hybrid psychological warfare strategy against the island’s public.

This week’s announcement by Chinese authorities in Xiamen could help ease concerns, even as Beijing continues to send fighter jets and military drones into the airspace around Taiwan on a daily basis.

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