Taiwan military drills to focus on combating blockade of island

Two-stage Han Kuang drills start next month amid heightened tension across the strait after recent China war games.

The Air Defense and Missile Command of Taiwan's Air Force. A soldier is on right of the camera in fatigues. The air defence system is pointing towards the sky
Taiwan is stepping up its defences amid increased pressure from China [File: Taiwan Defence Ministry/Handout via Reuters]

Taiwan will start its Han Kuang military drills next month with computer simulations as it focuses on combating a blockade of the island and preserving the fighting capabilities of its forces, according to its defence ministry.

The annual drills will kick off with five days of tabletop exercises from May 15. Live fire exercises are to take place for five days from July 24.

The focus will be on combat forces’ “preservation” and “maritime interception”, the defence ministry said at a press conference, and will include civilian airports.

The naval element will integrate sea, air and land forces to attack enemy troops and amphibious assault ships as well as to protect sea lanes and counter blockade efforts, it said.

“Of course, our drills are based on the threat of the communists invading Taiwan and its recent military exercises around Taiwan,” the ministry’s combat planning chief, General Lin Wen-huang, told reporters.

China, which claims the self-ruled island as its own, has stepped up pressure on Taiwan since Tsai Ing-wen was first elected president in 2016. Beijing has also sought to isolate the territory internationally.

Earlier this month, after Tsai met the speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, in California, Beijing practised days of precision strikes and blockades around the island, echoing its actions after McCarthy’s predecessor Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan last year.

China, which has not ruled out the use of force to take control of Taiwan, views Tsai as a “separatist” and claims she is bent on independence. Tsai says the people of Taiwan should be the ones to decide their future.

China’s navy last week shared a slickly produced video to celebrate its 74th anniversary, showing its aircraft carrier, the Shandong, and new amphibious assault ships simulating an attack and landing somewhere in “Western Pacific waters”, suggesting they were planning a Taiwan contingency.

“It takes a strong navy to safeguard the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Zhu Fenglian, a spokesperson for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said on Wednesday when asked what message the video was supposed to send.

“The Democratic Progressive Party authorities and Taiwan independence separatist forces are trying to collude with external forces, but there’s no chance of splitting the country,” she said, referring to Taiwan’s ruling party.

Taiwan is trying to boost its defensive capabilities by investing in new equipment such as long-range missiles and drones and by extending compulsory military service to one year.

Although Taiwan’s military is generally well-trained and equipped with mostly US-made hardware, China has huge numerical superiority and is adding advanced equipment such as stealth fighters.

Speaking to reporters at parliament, Taiwan National Security Bureau Director-General Tsai Ming-yen said China was using new “cognitive warfare” methods to try to sway public opinion and spread fake news ahead of January’s presidential elections.

“We need to continue paying attention to what they are up to during the election process,” he said

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters