TAIPEI • Fighter jets, helicopters and thousands of troops in Taiwan fought back a simulated Chinese invasion yesterday as the self-ruled island faces increasing military and diplomatic pressure from Beijing.
The drills were presided over by Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and watched by the visiting King of eSwatini, the African kingdom formerly known as Swaziland, which is at the centre of a diplomatic tug-of-war between Taiwan and China.
More than 4,000 personnel and over 1,500 pieces of equipment were deployed in the annual "Han Kuang" (Han Glory) exercise, with drones flying overhead to provide battlefield surveillance and construction workers practising repairs to an airbase runway.
Yesterday'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 defence and multiple deterrence'," Ms Tsai said. "So long as our armed forces are around, Taiwan will surely be around."
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 manoeuvres in the area. Beijing has also stepped up diplomatic pressure on Taipei, luring four countries to switch allegiance from Taiwan to China since Ms Tsai took office.
China has called on eSwatini to sever relations with Taiwan before early September, when Beijing will host a summit of African leaders.
China has been incensed by a recent warming in relations between Taiwan and the United States, which remains the island's most powerful ally and arms supplier even though it has no official diplomatic ties.
President Donald Trump recently signed a symbolic Bill paving the way for mutual visits by high-level officials and Washington gave long-awaited approval for a licence to sell submarine technology to Taiwan.
A defence spending Bill currently before Congress in Washington calls on the US military to participate in Taiwan's drills, including the annual Han Kuang exercise.
In a move certain to rile Beijing, Taiwan's Defence Ministry spokesman Chen Chung-chi said yesterday that Taiwan was eager to take part in the US-hosted Rim of the Pacific naval exercise. The Pentagon last month withdrew an invitation to China to participate in response to what it sees as Beijing's militarisation of South China Sea islands.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS