THOUSANDS of Taiwanese troops aided by fighter jets, helicopters, and civilian drones fought back in a simulated invasion Thursday amid escalating tensions with China.
Live-fire drills began Monday with troops simulating surprise air and coastal assaults to reflect increased military threats from China, which sees Taiwan as a renegade province to be brought back into the fold — by force if necessary.
Relations between Taipei and Beijing have deteriorated since President Tsai Ing-wen was elected in 2016, as her government refuses to acknowledge that Taiwan is part of “one China”.
Tsai watched Thursday’s session of the ongoing “Han Kuang” (Han Glory) exercise involving 4,100 soldiers, attack helicopters and fighter jets from an air base in Taichung, according to the AFP.
Thursday’s scenario simulated the enemy bombing of an airfield and a paratrooper attack, with air and ground troops deployed to take back the base.
An F-16 fighter flew overhead and deployed flares in a defensive move against heat-seeking missiles. Special operations troops were seen moving to secure a building.
“I have seen our troops’ capabilities and I have faith that our troops can achieve the goal of ‘solid defense and multiple deterrence’,” Tsai said.
China held its own live-fire drills in April in the Taiwan Strait — the narrow waterway separating the Chinese mainland from Taiwan — following weeks of air and naval maneuvers in the area.
Beijing has also stepped up diplomatic pressure on Taipei, luring four countries to switch allegiance from Taiwan to China since Tsai took office.
On Monday, the pilot of an F-16 jet involved in the drills was killed after crashing into a mountain in northern Taiwan. The cause of the incident was under investigation.
China’s air force has conducted a series of military manoeuvres near the island in recent months that Taipei has denounced as intimidation, according to Reuters.
Taiwan has accused China of using dollar diplomacy to lure away its allies, promising generous aid packages, charges Beijing has denied.
“In the process of the drills taking place, our armed forces’ displayed their fighting capacity and our ally nation was able to observe,” said Taiwan Defence Ministry spokesman Chen Chung-chi.
“This is one way we hope to deepen our dialogue on both sides,” he added.
In a move certain to rile Beijing, Chen said Taiwan was eager to take part in a US-hosted naval drill. The Pentagon last month withdrew an invitation to China in response to what it sees as Beijing’s militarisation of islands in the South China Sea.
The Rim of the Pacific exercise, known as RIMPAC, is billed as the world’s largest international maritime exercise, held every two years in Hawaii in June and July.