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Taiwan launches spring military drills amid China threats

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  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                Taiwanese soldiers load a AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground missile on a P-3 submarine hunter aircraft at an airbase in southern Taiwan’s Pingtung county. Taiwan is holding spring military drills following its recent presidential election and amid threats from China, which claims the island as its own territory that it is determined to annex, possibly by force.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Taiwanese soldiers load a AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground missile on a P-3 submarine hunter aircraft at an airbase in southern Taiwan’s Pingtung county. Taiwan is holding spring military drills following its recent presidential election and amid threats from China, which claims the island as its own territory that it is determined to annex, possibly by force.

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                An E-2 early warning aircraft flies near an airbase in southern Taiwan’s Pingtung county. Taiwan is holding spring military drills following its recent presidential election and amid threats from China, which claims the island as its own territory that it is determined to annex, possibly by force.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

    An E-2 early warning aircraft flies near an airbase in southern Taiwan’s Pingtung county. Taiwan is holding spring military drills following its recent presidential election and amid threats from China, which claims the island as its own territory that it is determined to annex, possibly by force.

PINGTUNG, Taiwan >> Taiwan is holding spring military drills following its recent presidential election and amid threats from China, which claims the island as its own territory that it is determined to annex, possibly by force.

Reporters on Tuesday were flown to a base in the southern county of Pingtung, where the air force maintains a fleet of C-130 transport planes, E-2 early warning aircraft and P-3 Orion submarine hunters and maritime surveillance planes.

The tour for journalists included a display of the various ordnance carried on the P-3, a turboprop aircraft with four engines developed by Lockheed that was first introduced into the U.S. military in the 1960s. The planes can drop acoustic devices to detect submarines, and also are armed with torpedoes and Maverick and Harpoon missiles.

China has maintained military, diplomatic and economic pressure on Taiwan following the Jan. 13 election that returned the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party to a third consecutive four-year term in the presidency, this time with current Vice President Lai Ching-te at the top of the ticket.

China, which strongly opposes any moves by Taiwan toward formal independence, has been sending warplanes and navy ships on a near daily basis in the waters and airspace around the island.

However, pilots at 6th Composite Wing in Pingtung said they very rarely encounter Beijing’s People’s Liberation Army during their missions. Taiwan’s standard response is to scramble fighter jets, put missile launch sites on a alert and send its own navy ships to investigate when China’s forces encroach.

The annual drills are also aimed at boosting public confidence in the island’s ability to defend itself ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday, which this year begins on Feb. 10 and each year sees travel by millions to their hometowns on the island and vacationing abroad.

“We have completed the relevant trainings and we can definitely cope with various possible situations. We will carry out our mission in accordance with the instructions of the Ministry of Defense and the Air Force Command Headquarters,” Major Tsai Tsung-Yu, a P-3 pilot, told reporters at the base.

“We will continue to execute our training in Taiwan’s southwest airspace and maintain response capacity (when encountering PLA aircraft) as directed by the Air Force Combat Command,” Tsai said. He was referring to the island’s self-declared air defense identification zone, through which Chinese military aircraft frequently fly, as well as crossing the unofficial center line in the Taiwan Strait that divides the sides and which Beijing refuses to recognize.

The military will follow with naval and warplane displays Wednesday aimed at showing the island’s continuing defiance.

A half dozen fighter wings are due to take part in the drills, along with naval forces in conformity with the overall strategy of dissuading any attempt by the PLA to cross the 160 kilometer (100 miles)-wide Taiwan Strait and land troops on the island of 23 million.

This month’s presidential election marked the third straight loss for the Nationalist Party, or KMT, which favors unification with China and is one of the only political entities in Taiwan with which Beijing will engage. The party did gain a slight edge over the DPP in the legislature. But it remains deadlocked in talks with a third party, the TPP, which has vacillated between support for the two major parties.

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