HUALIEN, Taiwan — Taiwan’s navy held a major live-fire exercise Wednesday off the island’s east coast in an area increasingly threatened by Chinese ships and planes.
The drills are part of annual Han Kuang exercises that simulate an attack by China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory to be annexed by force if necessary.
Navy craft fired cannons and missiles and released depth charges, while fighter jets launched munitions and anti-submarine warfare aircraft released buoys.
Submarines, along with a vast array of ballistic missiles, are considered among China's most potent weapons against Taiwan, which split from the mainland during a civil war in 1949.
China has boosted its military threat against Taiwan, with President Xi Jinping saying this year that Beijing would not rule out using force.
That comes on top of growing Chinese pressure to isolate Taiwan in the international community and inflict economic pain, largely to force independence-leaning President Tsai Ing-wen to agree to Beijing’s contention that Taiwan is a part of China.
Stepped-up Chinese operations have included sending ships to nearby waters and warplanes to circle the island on what Beijing calls training missions.
While China would need to send thousands of troops across the Taiwan Strait to effect an invasion, Beijing military planners are also believed to be considering a form of lightning strike that could quickly devastate the island’s ability to resist and force it to capitulate before its chief ally, the United States, could come to its aid.
Taiwan’s lightly populated east coast is home to a key air base and other important military installations.
"We will conduct military exercises regularly at the location where we think the war could be possibly happening," navy Capt. Soong Shu-kou told reporters.
"The waters off Taiwan's eastern coast are the important area where we need to conduct military drills often. Because this area could be a significant battle ground in the future," he said.
Defense ministry spokesman Chen Jung-ji said Taiwan was accelerating the pace of training as a way of deterring Chinese aggression.
“We can only depend on ourselves to defend our own country. We will conduct more training to strengthen our combat capabilities in the face of the ongoing military threats” from China, Chen said.