Taiwan holds military drills in face of China tension

KAOHSIUNG (AFP) - Taiwan carried out military drills on Wednesday (Jan 27) with naval chiefs assuring residents the island is safe, as concerns grow that tensions will escalate with China after the recent presidential election.

The drills were the first since Ms Tsai Ing-wen of the China-sceptic Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) swept to victory in the elections earlier this month.

She ousted the ruling Beijing-friendly Kuomintang (KMT), bringing to an end eight years of unprecedented rapprochement with China.

On Wednesday, the Taiwanese navy displayed eight warships and fired flares from a missile corvette during an exercise in waters off Tsoying in southern Taiwan, home to the island's naval headquarters.

It was the second and final day of the drills, which saw a group of elite "frogmen" land on a beach in motorboats on Tuesday on the island of Kinmen - a Taiwan-controlled outpost island near China's south-eastern Xiamen city.

A fleet of F-16 fighter jets were also scrambled in another exercise on Tuesday at the southern Chiayi airbase.

"With the Chinese New Year approaching, our citizens can feel at ease we are able to maintain peace in the Taiwan Strait," Vice-Admiral Tsai Hung-tu, head of the navy's political warfare office, told AFP.

Military exercises are routinely carried out by Taiwan before the Chinese New Year holidays, which fall in February this year.

Although Ms Tsai has pledged to maintain the status quo with Beijing, relations are widely expected to cool as the DPP is traditionally a pro-independence party.

It does not recognise that Taiwan is part of "one China" - a principle insisted upon by Beijing.

Taiwan is self-ruling after splitting from China in 1949 following a civil war, but has never formally declared independence. Beijing still sees it as part of its territory to be reunified.

China's state-controlled CCTV last week released footage it claimed depicted a drill carried out by Chinese forces after the elections, off the south-east coast of the mainland, near Taiwan.

Taiwan's Defence Ministry dismissed the footage, saying the images were collated from past manoeuvres.

A Taiwanese Defence Ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity told AFP that the move was part of Beijing's "psychological warfare" against Taiwan.

China has 1,500 missiles trained on Taiwan, according to the island's Defence Ministry.

China fired test missiles into the Taiwan Strait in a bid to deter voters in the island's first democratic elections in 1996.