Taiwan to hold first major live-fire military exercise since 2008

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan on Tuesday unveiled plans for its biggest live-fire military exercise since 2008, aimed at reviewing the island's defence capability against a simulated Chinese invasion.

The operation will take place on April 17 on the Penghu islands in the middle of the 180-kilometre strait that separates Taiwan from the Chinese mainland.

The archipelago is used to control major shipping lanes linking the South China Sea and East China Sea.

"The main purpose of the drill is to review the defence capability of the troops stationed in Penghu," Major General Tseng Fu-hsing told reporters.

President Ma Ying-jeou's China-friendly administration has not held any major live-fire exercises since he came to power in 2008 on a platform of beefing-up trade and tourism links, heralding a detente between the two sides.

Mr Ma was reelected in January 2012 for a second four-year term, and his government is now trying to boost its low popularity in the face of calls to stand up to Beijing, as well as continuing its policy of engagement.

During the operation, named "Han Kuang 29" (Han Glory), the military would test the Ray Ting 2000 or "Thunder 2000", a locally developed multiple-launch rocket system designed to prevent the enemy from making an amphibious landing, Tseng said.

The drill was decided upon to quell public fears over a possible attack, he added.

China still considers Taiwan part of its territory and has vowed to take it back even if it means war, and even though the island has governed itself since their split in 1949 at the end of a civil war.

The announcement of the drill came a day after Chinese media reported that China had agreed to buy two dozen Su-35 fighter jets and four Lada-class submarines from Russia, the country's first large-scale weapons technology purchases from Moscow in a decade.

In response to the reports, Defence Ministry spokesman David Lo said Taiwan was unlikely to conduct an arms race against China, which is involved in a number of territorial disputes with its neighbours.

But he pledged that the military would do everything it could to "defer the enemy from easily using force" against the island, including beefing up training and morale.

Earlier this month China announced a further double-digit rise in its defence budget, raising it by 10.7 percent to 720.2 billion yuan (S$143 billion) in 2013.

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