Taipei’s defence minister says self-governing island is prepared to ‘fire the first shot’ if Chinese forces enter its territorial space.

Taiwan must be on alert this year for a “sudden entry” by the Chinese military into areas close to its territory as tensions rise across the Taiwan Strait, its defence minister warned.

China has stepped up its military activities around Taiwan in recent years, including almost daily air force incursions into the island’s air defence identification zone.

However, Taiwan has not reported any incident of Chinese forces entering its contiguous zone, 44.4km (24 nautical miles) from its coast. But it has shot down a civilian drone that entered its airspace near an islet off the Chinese coast last year.

Answering questions from lawmakers in parliament, Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said on Monday the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) might find excuses to enter areas close to Taiwan’s territorial air and sea space as the self-governing island steps up its military exchanges with the United States, to Beijing’s ire.

The PLA might make a “sudden entry” into Taiwan’s contiguous zone and get close to its territory, which the island defines as 22km (12 nautical miles) from its coast, he said.

“[I] specifically make these comments this year, meaning they are making such preparations,” Chiu said. “Looking forward, they would use force if they really have to.”