Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen boarded a warship for the second time in her six-year rule on Tuesday, praising the army’s determination to defend the island. while overseeing its largest annual naval and air exercises.
The military exercises, which simulate the repulse of an invading force, coincide with air exercises across the island as the island prepares for combat in the face of mounting military pressure from China.
Beijing’s growing assertiveness toward an island it claims as Chinese territory, coupled with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, have renewed debate over how to bolster defenses and prompted authorities to step up preparations in the event of a Chinese attack.
Beijing considers Taiwan to be part of its territory and has never given up using force to bring the island under its control. Taiwan rejects Beijing’s claims of sovereignty and promises to defend its freedom and democracy.
As part of Taiwan’s annual “Han Kuang” exercises, 20 warships, including frigates and destroyers, fired shells to intercept and attack a potential invasion force off Taiwan’s northeast coast, while fleets of F- 16 and domestically made Ching-kuo fighters launched airstrikes.
Tsai, aboard a decommissioned US Kidd-class missile destroyer in waters off the port city of Suao, was present in camouflage and waving to soldiers.
“The excellent drill just now has demonstrated the ROC soldiers’ ability and determination to defend the country,” Tsai told soldiers via cockpit broadcast, using Taiwan’s official name.
“Let’s keep protecting our homeland together. Good job,” he said.
The five-day drills come amid growing concern about China’s intentions toward Taiwan. China said on Monday it had increased warnings to the Biden administration about a possible visit to Taiwan by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. These visits are a frequent source of tension between Beijing and Washington.
The United States has no official diplomatic relations with Taiwan, but is required by US law to provide the democratically-ruled island with the means to defend itself.
Although Taiwan’s military is well-trained and equipped with mostly American hardware, China has vast numerical superiority and is adding advanced equipment such as stealth fighters.
In a pre-recorded speech at a security forum in Taipei on Tuesday morning, Tsai said “authoritarian forces” were threatening to subvert the status quo in the Indo-Pacific region and that Taiwan was on the geopolitical frontline to “fight against authoritarian aggression.
Drills conducted this year across the island include the repulsion of an invading force at a major port near the capital, Taipei, urban combat drills by the reservist force, and an exercise to move aircraft across Taiwan to bunkers. dug into the side of mountains on the remote eastern seaboard to withstand a first wave of missile attacks.
Among the warships on display was the island’s newest minehunter, as well as a stealth corvette, which has been dubbed a “carrier-killer” by the Taiwanese navy because of its complement of anti-ship missiles.