Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen watches naval drill as tensions with China rise

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen has warned against what she called Beijing's "military expansion" - the increase in Chinese air and naval drills around the island since she took office in May 2016.
Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen has warned against what she called Beijing's "military expansion" - the increase in Chinese air and naval drills around the island since she took office in May 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

SUAO, TAIWAN (AFP) - Taiwan's President watched naval drills simulating an attack on the island on Friday (April 13), days before Beijing is set to hold live-fire exercises nearby in a show of force.

Relations between self-ruling Taiwan and China have deteriorated since Ms Tsai Ing-wen came to power, largely because she refuses to accept the "One China" formula governing relations.

Beijing regards the island as its territory - to be reunited by force if necessary - even though the two sides split in 1949 after a civil war.

China's growing military is increasingly flexing its muscles and will hold live-fire drills next week in the Taiwan Strait - the narrow waterway separating the Chinese mainland from Taiwan - following weeks of naval manoeuvres in the area.

Ms Tsai on Friday boarded the Kee Lung destroyer to supervise as Taiwanese sailors practised defending against an attack on the island's northeastern port of Suao.

It was the first time she has supervised a drill from onboard a warship.

“I believe our countrymen will have great faith in the military’s combat capabilities and its determination to defend our country after today’s drill,” Ms Tsai said on the destroyer’s deck after it returned to port as the exercise ended.

Ms Tsai said, “We are very confident of our military,” when asked to comment on Beijing’s planned live-fire drill in the Taiwan Strait next week.

“It’s a routine drill that our military will fully monitor and has made relevant preparations,” she said.

The exercise was staged in light of a "changing international and regional security situation" to test the military's combat readiness and its ability to defend Taiwanese territory, the island's Defence Ministry said.

Some 20 warships took part in the exercise, alongside four F-16 fighter jets.

 

Ms Tsai has warned against what she called Beijing's "military expansion" - the increase in Chinese air and naval drills around the island since she took office in May 2016.

Chinese warplanes conducted 25 drills around Taiwan between August 2016 and mid-December last year, according to Taipei.

On Thursday, Chinese leader Xi Jinping made a surprise visit to naval forces in the disputed South China Sea, where he stressed the "urgent" need to build a powerful navy.

The Liaoning carrier group sailed through the Taiwan Strait on March 20, the same day that Mr Xi issued a public warning against attempts to "separate" from China.

Mr Xi's visit came after a US aircraft carrier gave a demonstration on Tuesday for members of the Philippine government.

Washington recently agreed to allow US defence contractors to help Taiwan construct its own submarines, sparking a warning from Beijing to Taipei against “playing with fire to burn itself”.