Taiwan conducts military drills on island off Chinese coast

AP

Taiwan held small-scale military drills on an island it controls just off the Chinese coast Tuesday, in a renewed signal of its determination to defend itself from Chinese threats.

The head of Kinmen’s defense command said the beach landing exercise and simulated attack by the navy’s elite “frogman” commandos were to show the ability of the armed forces to provide security in the Taiwan Strait ahead of next month’s Lunar New Year holiday.

The drills follow China’s revelation of live-fire exercises in the area just days after Taiwanese voters elected independence-leaning Tsai Ing-wen as president on Jan. 16. The unit involved, the 31st Group Army, is charged with responding to contingencies involving Taiwan and is based in the city of Xiamen, directly across a narrow waterway from Kinmen.

China claims Taiwan as its own territory and threatens to use force to bring the island under its control.

The Kinmen commander, Hau Yi-he, said no unusual Chinese military movements had been detected since the election and Taiwan’s forces would continue with routine drills.

“We have been monitoring their military movements. So far, it has remained normal,” Hau told reporters during a visit to the island organized by Taiwan’s Defense Ministry.

Taiwan retained Kinmen and the Matsu island group to the north as frontline defense outposts for Nationalist forces that retreated to Taiwan following the communist’s 1949 sweep to power in China’s civil war.

While China in recent years has promoted the concept of peaceful unification rather than outright invasion, it has refused to drop its military threat and passed a law in 2005 laying out the conditions under which it would attack. While not laying out a timetable, President Xi Jinping has told visitors he does not wish the issue of independence to be put off for future generations.

Writing Monday in the Communist Party newspaper Global Times, commentator and retired general Luo Yuan said China would never bend in its determination to realize unification, regardless of developments on Taiwan.

“As long as ‘peace’ has not died, we will give 100 percent,” wrote Luo, whose views reflect a popular strain of thinking among nationalist Chinese. “But if the ‘Taiwan independence’ elements force us into a corner, then we have no other choice but ‘unification by force.’ “