Taiwan’s military exercises reflect it can repeal full-scale Chinese invasion

MIM-104F (PAC-3) Patriot BMD takes part in the Han Kuang No. 31 military exercises in June.

Taiwanese soldiers have fought off simulated coastal assaults from China during their biggest annual live-fire exercises of the year, as Beijing ramps up military pressure on the island.

The five-day drill, which began on last Monday, tests how democratic Taiwan’s armed forces would repel an invasion from its neighbour.

Beijing regards Taiwan as part of its territory and has vowed to one day seize it – by force if necessary.

Thursday’s simulation involved fighter jets, warships and ground troops repelling an enemy attempt to land on a beach in the central city of Taichung in an operation involving 8,000 service members.

Soldiers take part in the Han Kuang military drill.
Soldiers take part in the Han Kuang military drill. Photograph: Ann Wang/Reuters

Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, watched the exercise, later tweeting that it “demonstrated to the world our robust defence capabilities and strong determination to defend Taiwan”.

Taipei has lived with the threat of a Chinese invasion since the two sides split in 1949 after a civil war.

In recent decades, it has become increasingly outnumbered and outgunned by China’s enormous People’s Liberation Army.

Beijing has piled military, economic and diplomatic pressure on Taiwan since Tsai came to power in 2016. She refuses to acknowledge its stance that the island is part of “one China”.

Tsai won a landslide re-election in January in what was seen as a strong rebuke to China’s strong-arm tactics against the country.

Last year, the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, gave a bellicose speech about Taiwan, warning its unification was “inevitable”.

Chinese warplanes have started buzzing around Taiwan with unprecedented frequency, repeatedly breaching its air defence zone and prompting Taipei to scramble its fighter jets.

AH-64E attack helicopters.
AH-64E attack helicopters. Photograph: Ritchie B Tongo/EPA

The military mismatch has been compounded by western governments’ increasing wariness to sell Taiwan advanced weapon systems, amid fears of incurring Beijing’s wrath.

That has pushed Taiwan to develop its own hardware, including advanced missiles, boats and a new trainer jet. Some of those weapons, including locally built surface-to-air and hypersonic missiles, were used during this week’s drills.

China’s increasingly muscular approach towards the island has also sparked renewed international cooperation with Taiwan.

A US-made Patriot III missile.
A US-made Patriot III missile. Photograph: Taiwan defence ministry/AFP/Getty Images

Under Donald Trump, Washington has become far more willing to sell big-ticket items including F-16 fighter jets.

This week, Beijing said it would impose sanctions on the defence company Lockheed Martin in response to the US agreeing to upgrade Taiwan’s Patriot missile systems.

France has also angered Beijing by agreeing to upgrade the missile interference systems on frigates Taiwan purchased in the 1990s.

Washington has remained a leading unofficial ally and arms supplier to Taipei, despite switching diplomatic recognition to Beijing in 1979.

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