TAIPEI – Taiwan will simulate repelling an invading force, emergency repairs of a major air base and using civilian-operated drones as part of military exercises starting next week, the Defense Ministry said Tuesday amid growing tensions with China.
Over the past year or so, China has ramped up military drills around self-ruled and democratic Taiwan, including flying bombers and other military aircraft around the island.
China claims Taiwan as its sacred territory, and its hostility toward the island has grown since the 2016 election as president of Tsai Ing-wen from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party.
China has been issuing increasingly strident calls for Taiwan to toe the line, even as Tsai has pledged to maintain the status quo and keep the peace.
Taiwan’s annual Han Kuang drills, which start next week with a computer-aided command post exercise, do not make explicit mention of China, instead referring to “offensive forces invading Taiwan.”
A spokesman for the Defense Ministry, however, was more blunt about their purpose.
“Simply put, the main goal of the drills is to make any Chinese communist military mission to invade Taiwan fail,” spokesman Chen Chung-chi told reporters.
“It simulates this year’s situation and we are taking into consideration China’s air and naval movements in the region,” he added.
This year’s drills will enlist the coast guard and National Airborne Service Corps, which handles rescue flights, for the first time for “comprehensive defense,” Chen said.
Civilian drones will also participate in the drill for the first time to conduct surveillance and mark targets, while civilian telecom service providers will assist in maintaining communication and control, the ministry said.
“It’s not just soldiers’ duties to protect the country. Everyone has the responsibility since our defense budget is limited,” Chen said.
Building companies will also help with emergency runway repairs for the Ching Chuan Kang air base in central Taiwan, the ministry said.
Taiwan is well equipped with mostly U.S.-made weaponry, but has been pushing for Washington to sell it more advanced equipment, including new fighter jets, to help it better deter its giant neighbor.
Military experts say the balance of power between Taiwan and China has now shifted decisively in China’s favor, and China could likely overwhelm the island unless U.S. forces came quickly to Taiwan’s aid.
The United States is bound by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself, but it is unclear whether Washington would want to be dragged into what would likely be a hugely destructive war with China over the island.
According to a recent survey, most Taiwanese believe China is unlikely to invade Taiwan, but lack confidence in the military’s ability to defend the island should such an invasion occur.
The poll, released Monday by the Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation, also found that respondents were divided on the likelihood of the United States coming to Taiwan’s aid militarily if attacked.
The survey was conducted by telephone among a random sample of 1,072 adults in the nation from April 15 to April 17, with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.99 percent.
Nearly 65 percent of respondents doubted that China will try to take Taiwan by force in the future, while about 26 percent of the respondents felt the opposite.
Over 65 percent of the respondents said they do not think Taiwan’s military could effectively repel China’s forces, while only about 27 percent of the respondents felt confident that it could.
Around 47 percent of the respondents thought the United States would deploy its forces to defend Taiwan from a Chinese invasion, while 41 percent thought that unlikely.
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