Taiwanese fighter jets landed on a makeshift runway on a stretch of highway as the island’s annual military drills reached their peak.
President Tsai Ing-wen, who has promised to modernise Taiwan’s military, watched the display on Wednesday.
China has been ramping up pressure on the self-ruled territory, hoping to force the democratically-elected government to accept Beijing’s sovereignty, including with repeated exercises near Taiwan.
Tsai, re-elected by a landslide last year on a pledge to stand up to China, has said she aims to turn Taiwan’s mainly US-equipped military into a “porcupine”, both highly mobile and hard to attack.
Three fighters – an F-16, a French-made Mirage and a Taiwanese Ching-kuo fighter – plus an E-2 Hawkeye early-warning aircraft landed in rural southern Pingtung county on a stretch of highway especially designed to be straight and flat for rapid conversion from a road into a runway.
“Such splendid combat skills and rapid and real actions come from solid everyday training and also demonstrate the confidence of the Republic of China Air Force in defending its airspace,” Tsai wrote on Facebook, referencing Taiwan’s formal name.
Taiwan has five emergency highway runways across the island, which can be pressed into service in the event of a Chinese attack on its air force bases.
The majority of Taiwan’s air bases are on its flat west coast, facing China, and would probably come under almost immediate heavy missile and aerial bombardment in case of war.
Taiwan’s mountainous east coast is home to two other air bases, with hangers built deep into the rock to provide more solid protection.
The week-long Han Kuang drills are taking place around Taiwan, with other exercises to practise repelling a Chinese invasion, protecting critical infrastructure and night operations, although the highway drills are the most dramatic.
Military police in the Taipei area were also dispatched at about midnight on Wednesday to respond to a simulated assault on key telecommunications facilities in the capital, according to the Taipei Times.
Taiwan’s air force has been scrambled on an almost daily basis to intercept Chinese aircraft that fly into the island’s air defence zone, mostly close to the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands at the northern part of the disputed South China Sea.
Earlier this month, Taiwan reported that 19 Chinese military aircraft, including nuclear-capable bombers, entered its southwestern airspace.
The Ministry of National Defense said it tracked the Chinese planes as they flew into its air defence identification zone (ADIZ) and issued radio warnings to the crews.
The group included four H-6 bombers, 10 J-16 fighter jets and four Sukhoi SU-30 jets. A Y-8 transport and airborne early warning aircraft was also part of the incursion.
China has not commented on the flight, the largest incursion since June 15 when at least 28 Chinese air force aircraft – including fighters and nuclear-capable bombers – entered the ADIZ.
In July, neighbouring Japan warned that growing military tensions around Taiwan could threaten peace and stability in East Asia in its annual defence white paper.
This marked the first time that the Japanese report took up the issue of stability around the island.
“China has further intensified military activities around Taiwan including Chinese aircrafts’ entering the southwestern airspace of Taiwan,” the report said in its new section on Taiwan.
“In the meantime, the United States has demonstrated a clear stance of supporting Taiwan in military aspects, such as transits by US vessels through the Taiwan Strait and weapon sales.”
“Therefore, it is necessary that we pay close attention to the situation with a sense of crisis more than ever before,” it said.