TAIPEI, Taiwan >> Taiwan began annual military exercises Monday to simulate attacks by communist China, with a new emphasis on fending off drones that are believed to have become a major, cost-cutting part of the Chinese military strategy.
The Defense Ministry said thousands of troops will participate in the five-day Han Kuang, or Chinese Glory, maneuvers at air bases and along the island’s coasts. The drills are aimed at defending against Chinese troop landings and air attacks, but for the third year in a row they won’t involve any live fire, partly a reflection of improving ties with Beijing.
Taiwan believes any Chinese air attack would increasingly involve the use of drones, a new wrinkle in Beijing’s military posture meant to economize on troop and war plane deployment. The Taiwanese military believes the drones would concentrate on neutralizing radar installations in the event of a conflict.
Before recently re-elected Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou took office four years ago, Han Kuang was a live fire extravaganza, featuring coordinated air, naval and land responses by Taiwanese forces to a simulated attack by Beijing.
But that has morphed into digital war-gaming, reflecting not only improving relations between the sides — tensions across the 100-mile-wide Taiwan Strait are now at their lowest point since they split amid civil war in 1949 — but also a strong desire to cut costs.
Still, China has never renounced its long-standing threat to attack Taiwan if the island of 23 million people moves to make its de facto independence permanent — a step that would fly in the face of China’s claim that Taiwan is part of its territory.
While Ma has promised that such a change of status will never occur on his watch, China has continued outfitting its military with what it needs to conduct a cross-strait invasion, and has raised the number of missiles it aims at Taiwanese targets from some 1,100 in 2008 to an estimated 1,500 today.