TAIPEI • Taiwan's navy will step up regular patrols around the South China Sea and conduct joint training with the air force, in response to China's growing military power in the region, the island's defence minister said yesterday.
"Looking ahead at the transformation of China's strategy and its investment in new weapons, our military will practise new reforms in our training," Mr Feng Shih-kuan noted at a parliamentary session.
Presenting his ministry's latest report, he said the navy, during its regular South China Sea patrols, will conduct joint training with the air force to protect fishermen and supply vessels as well as undertake humanitarian rescue drills.
Taiwan sends regular supplies to Itu Aba island, the sole holding that it claims in the disputed South China Sea.
The energy-rich waters are also claimed by China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei.
Mr Feng's remarks come ahead of China's defence budget for this year, to be unveiled during the weekend at the annual meeting of the Chinese Parliament. The figures are closely watched around the region, and in Washington, for clues to Beijing's intentions.
Taiwan is increasingly concerned over China's military threat.
Beijing has never renounced the use of force to take back what it deems a wayward province.
Its military jets have flown regularly over the South China Sea.
Its first aircraft carrier recently sailed around Taiwan in what Beijing called routine drills.
The need for China to hold these air and sea drills in bigger spaces, particularly in the Pacific Ocean to Taiwan's east, represents "an increase in threat", Mr Feng said.
When asked by a lawmaker about the positioning of surface-to-air missile systems on Taiwan's eastern coast, he added: "The deployment of this force is done entirely for the security of our country."
The defence ministry confirmed in a report on Wednesday that Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missile systems had been moved to the sparsely populated counties of Hualien and Taitung.
The move is to ensure that Taiwan can defend itself in the event of an attack, according to a Central News Agency report. The upgraded projectiles can intercept incoming aircraft and missiles.
It is the first time the ministry has confirmed the deployment, after speculation following the publication of photographs last month that showed the missiles in air defence bases in eastern Taiwan.
Until now, PAC-3 systems were believed to have been located close to the populous cities of Taipei, Taichung and Kaohsiung, reported Taiwan News.