We left before dawn to drive to the southernmost point of Taiwan.
A remote, windswept place with a unique insight into the potentially dangerous discontinuity that is afoot.
Atop a glistening hill, you can see across the water in three directions, to the Pacific Ocean to the east, across the Taiwan Strait to the south and the Bashi Channel to the west.
Our host is a former Navy radar operator and radio enthusiast.
Robin Hsu visits the site almost every day with a car equipped with homemade antennas and audio receivers.
They say it is the best place on the island to hear fighter jet activity.
Captured by his kit are many mundane communications, for example crews of nearby ships communicating, and air traffic control directing commercial aircraft.
But others are unusual, and it’s not long before we hear something.
A sudden, loud but loud burst of sound bursts through Robin’s rigged speakers in Mandarin, identifying itself as the Taiwanese military with a clear nod to Chinese fighter jets.
“You have entered our Southeast ADIZ. [Air defence identification Zone]“It barks.
“You are endangering our safety, turn around and leave immediately.”
Moments later, a similar message appears.
“It’s normal,” says Robin.
It’s proof that somewhere in the skies above, a Chinese fighter jet has reached Taiwan’s airspace — known as the median line, the unofficial maritime border between the two.
Taiwan is an independent democracy that China views as its own. Gaining control of the island is a clear priority for Chinese leader Xi Jinping and the flights are part of a wider picture of increasing pressure.
Robin now records such interactions every day and says he’s seen a huge increase since he first started doing so in 2020.
In fact, the data supports their observations, with the number of Chinese jets on these trips increasing fivefold from 2020 to 2022.
And he has other recordings, including an American voice sending a warning to a Chinese plane.
“I am a United States military aircraft, conducting lawful military activities, in interstate airspace and on exercises, as warranted by international law,” it said.
“I am acting with the duties, rights and obligations of all states.”
Robin believes that the tone is sometimes intentionally humorous and provocative.
And perhaps most interestingly, he sometimes even listens to Chinese pilots. The Chinese voices she says come from inside the planes themselves and not from military command.
We heard an American plane issuing a warning not to stray too close to Chinese airspace.
“This is PLA. [People’s Liberation Army] Air Force,” it says. “You have entered China’s territorial airspace.”
And then, in English, a strong and clear: “Leave immediately, leave immediately.”
“You can hear they’re nervous,” says Robin.
And they may well be. These flights are extremely risky – in such tense and stressful scenarios a mistake on either side can quickly escalate into a serious conflict.
Robin posts his recordings on his Facebook page. This effort costs him a lot of time and money, so why does he do it?
He says he believes that in the past Taiwanese authorities wanted people to believe that things were peaceful and that any threat to the island was limited.
“But the military jets of the Chinese Communist Party, the CCP, are always around you, around me.”
He wants people to know the reality of the threat so that when that time comes, Taiwan will be ready.
“I love my country,” he says. “it is my duty.”
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