Taiwan expanded its annual military drills this week to practice resisting any attack from its major rival, China. The exercises come amid concerns that relations with China could be strained next year following Taiwan’s election of a new president.
Army, navy and air force troops are holding 63 exercises around Taiwan and its outlying islands this week. Government media say the scale of the annual drills, known as Han Kuang, grew this year as defense officials assess possible military threats from China. Video images in July showed China simulating an attack on what appeared to be the presidential office compound in Taipei.
Analysts expect the drills to focus on a potential strike from the mouth of the Danshui River, which connects the island's capital to an ocean strait between the two sides. Deputy defense ministry spokesman Chen Chung-chi called the exercises a time for gauging risk.
He said the ministry has been intently trying to grasp the level of threat, and added that the Han Kuang exercise period is the best time to strengthen preparedness. The exercises particularly let everyone become familiar with wartime defense, he said, and that's the area where he feels the ministry needs to step up preparedness.
China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since the 1940s, when the Nationalists lost the Chinese civil war to the Communists and fled to Taiwan. Today's Communist leadership in Beijing says the two sides must eventually be unified, despite opinion surveys in Taiwan that reflect widespread opposition.
China and Taiwan have set aside their political dispute since 2008 to hold talks on economic cooperation. But deals emerging from those talks have failed Beijing's hope of endearing the Taiwanese public to its unification goal. In January Taiwanese voters will pick a new president, and the frontrunner, Tsai Ing-wen, has chafed against Beijing by declining to talk with China on the premise that both sides belong to a single country.
When Tsai's Democratic Progressive Party ruled Taiwan from 2000 to 2008, China openly threatened to use force if Taiwan pursued legal independence.
The mostly privately staged military exercises from Monday through Friday will bring out 69 more aircraft than last year. Defense ministry spokesman Chen said the drills will also showcase three major weapons systems designed in Taiwan. Those include a drone system, a class of armored vehicle and a stealth missile corvette warship.
Taiwan has focused on developing its own weapons systems over the past five years as China pressures the United States to quit selling it arms. The U.S. government had been Taiwan's chief overseas supplier.