TAICHUNG, Taiwan — Taiwan's military on Thursday simulated the repulsing of a Chinese airborne assault on a major air base, amid heighted tensions across the Taiwan Strait.
The exercise at the sprawling Ching Chuan Kang force base near the central city of Taichung was part of an annual five-day live-firing exercise featuring joint operations of the air force, navy and ground forces.
Thursday's exercise featured soldiers in red helmets playing the role of Chinese troops landing by helicopter while special forces troops were deployed against them and tanks launched smoke screens. Other helicopters and fighter jets flew overhead while paratroopers dove from a C-130 transport plane and air defense missile batteries let fly.
The war games are intended to display the military's willingness and ability to fight off an invasion from China, which claims the self-governing island democracy as its own territory to be brought under its control by force if necessary. The sides split amid civil war in 1949.
Addressing dignitaries and the media, President Tsai Ing-wen said she had seen "the solid strength of our national army and I am very confident that our military forces have capabilities to fulfill the task of making effective use of deterrence and defense."
"The strength of our national army is the guarantee of national security, the foundation of social prosperity, and the staunch backing of the values of democracy and freedom," Tsai said.
Beijing has stepped up its diplomatic, economic and military pressure on the independence-leaning Tsai since her inauguration more than two years ago, sending warplanes to circle the island and an aircraft carrier through the Taiwan Strait, among other measures aimed at intimidating the island's 23 million people.
Faced with the unwillingness of foreign suppliers to sell arms to Taiwan under pressure from China, Tsai has vowed to revitalize the domestic arms industry. Submarines, missile boats and missile defense systems are among the weapons most needed.
However, the U.S. has continued to provide arms and a reported shift in government policy could make it easier for Taiwan to purchase what it needs on a case-by-case basis.
Shortly before the Han Kuang exercises began, an F-16 crashed into mountains in northern Taiwan, killing the pilot.