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Taiwan Begins Largest Military Drills Since 2008

Taiwanese military's M60A3 Patton tanks fire during Han Kuang military exercises in Penghu county, Taiwan, April 17, 2013.
Taiwan has begun five days of large-scale military exercises meant to demonstrate its ability to defend itself against any attack from mainland China.

The annual drill in the Taiwan Strait includes a test of the Thunderbolt-2000 multiple rocket launch system designed to take out enemy ships before they reach shore. Tanks, artillery, and attack helicopters also pounded mock targets at sea during the war games.

President Ma Ying-jeou, who has overseen a warming of relations with Beijing, is personally overseeing the live-fire drills. Speaking to troops beforehand, he said the drills are a reminder of the threat of a rising China.

"China's economy has grown rapidly in recent years and they have been busy upgrading their military. Therefore, we have to strengthen our defense forces to prevent China's threats and maintain peace and stability between Taiwan and China," he said.

The drills, involving Taiwan's air force, army and navy, are the largest since 2008. They are taking place on the Penghu Islands, roughly midway between mailand China and the island of Taiwan.

They come just a day after China released its annual defense white paper, which called Taiwan's independence the "biggest threat to the peaceful development of cross-strait relations."

Taiwan and China have been separated since 1949, when Mao Zedong's communist forces drove Chiang Kai-shek's nationalists off the mainland. Bejing continues to claim Taiwan as part of its territory, and has vowed to bring the self-ruled island back under its rule, by force if necessary.

But Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou has worked to improve diplomatic and trade ties between the cross-Strait rivals since taking office in 2008. He was re-elected to a second and final four-year term in January 2012.