Taiwan holds massive military exercises in Han Kuang as tensions with China rise

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By Eric Cheung, CNN

(CNN) — In simulated scenes, a hostile enemy tries to take control of a key waterway near the Taiwanese capital. Attacking from the sea and the air, the invading forces targeted the mouth of the Tamsui River on the island’s north coast, a strategic estuary that provided direct access to central Taipei.

In response, the Taiwanese military shoved Indigenous Defense Fighter (IDF) jets and tanks, while ground troops detonated explosives to halt the advance.

The scenes are part of the week-long Han Kuang drills that took place across Taiwan and its outer islands through Friday. The annual event has been running since 1984 and involves all branches of the Taiwanese military – including its reserve forces – with the aim of bolstering overall defense capabilities.

This year the drills have taken on greater significance amid growing concerns over China’s intentions towards Taiwan – a self-governing island that Beijing’s ruling Communist Party claims as its own.

These concerns have been heightened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Beijing does not rule out the use of force to take control of Taiwan and is exerting increasing military pressure on the island by sending planes into its self-declared air defense identification zone.

Beijing also reacted harshly to reports that US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was planning a trip to Taipei, warning that China’s military would “resolutely defend national sovereignty” if confronted by “forces”. exteriors” encouraging the independence of Taiwan.

“China demands that the United States take concrete steps to fulfill its commitment not to support ‘Taiwan independence’ and not to arrange Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan,” the ministry spokesperson said on Tuesday. Defense Chinese Tan Kefei in response to questions about Pelosi’s trip to Taipei.

“If the United States insists on going its own way, the Chinese military will never sit idly by, and it will certainly take strong measures to thwart the interference of any outside force and the separatists’ plans for ‘independence’. of Taiwan “and resolutely uphold national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Tan added.

A week-long military exercise

The Han Kuang drills are the largest annual live-fire drills of its kind held each year in Taiwan, a democratically-ruled island of 24 million people.

On Tuesday, as Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen looked on, the island’s military staged an attack on Su’ao Naval Base, a major military port in northeast Taiwan, with its forces playing both the role of aggressor and defender.

For two hours, Mirage 2000s and F-16s raced to intercept warplanes invading from the east; helicopters played cat and mouse with submarines; and guided missile destroyers fired cannons, missiles and torpedoes at an imaginary armada heading for the shore.

The drills demonstrate “the ability and determination of our military to defend our country,” Tsai told troops afterwards.

It is likely that the Chinese military will be among those most interested in the conduct of the exercises.

A Chinese combat and reconnaissance drone flew over Japan’s Miyako Strait on Monday, before hovering in the airspace off the east coast of Taiwan, according to a flight path released by Japan’s Defense Ministry.

The drills are also designed to teach locals how to react if Taiwan were to be attacked.

For 30 minutes on Monday afternoon, traffic in Taipei was halted and residents took refuge as air raid sirens sounded across the city. Similar drills are taking place across Taiwan for the rest of the week.

The Taipei City government said the purpose of the air raid drills was to teach the public the location of bomb shelters “in case of war”.

A growing threat from China

The United States and Taiwan have warned that the island is coming under increasing military pressure from Beijing.

This is partly reflected in the number of times China has sent its military planes into Taiwan’s self-declared air defense identification zone, including 56 planes in a single day last October. In response, Taiwan had to jam fighter jets, issue radio warnings and deploy air defense missile systems to monitor activities.

Last year, Taiwan’s Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said China might be able to mount a “full-scale” invasion by 2025, adding that military tensions across the strait were running high. their “most serious” point for more than 40 years. joined the army.

Since then, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – and China’s refusal to condemn Moscow’s actions – have intensified speculation about Beijing’s intentions.

Last week, CIA Director Bill Burns said China had been studying Russia’s invasion of Ukraine closely by calculating “how and when” it might decide to invade Taiwan. “I wouldn’t underestimate President Xi’s determination to assert control over China,” Burns said.

Such assessments have shed light on how best Taiwan could respond in the event of an invasion.

Chang Yan-ting, a former deputy commander of the Taiwanese air force, told CNN that Taiwan must learn from Ukraine to fight a larger invading force and accelerate its development of asymmetric warfare capabilities.

Rather than focusing on conventional weapons like tanks, he said Taiwan should develop and buy new long-range missiles that could hit Chinese military installations in the event of war.

“Taiwan is different from Ukraine in that we are an island and densely populated, so it would be difficult for residents to evacuate Taiwan if war breaks out,” Chang said.

Therefore, the Taiwanese military should focus its strategy on preventing the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China from landing in the first place, rather than retreating to the hinterland and risking battles. in densely populated cities.

“We should prioritize an asymmetric warfare strategy that prevents Taiwan from becoming a war zone,” he said. “We can do this by urgently strengthening our long-range strike capabilities, so that we can hit enemy targets and eliminate their forces in (China’s) Fujian province if they launch an attack or attempt to crossing the Taiwan Strait.”

“In this way, we can protect as much of the lives of our ordinary citizens as possible, as well as the financial capital that our people have worked so hard to build on our lands over the past seven decades.”

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