Mocked as a 'flash-mob leader' and 'six-minute president', Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou has come under fire for failing to bolster Taiwan's defences amid a rapid military build-up on the mainland. But Ma's office and the island's military insisted that the mainland-friendly leader cared about domestic defence as much as his harshest critics do. They said he believed that maintaining an elite force is the most effective deterrent to any military action by Beijing. The controversy began when Taiwan began this year's Han Kuang exercises - the island's most important annual war games - last month. Ma was the first president in the history of the drills to be absent from Taiwan when they commenced. Huang Wei-cher, a lawmaker from the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party, led the charge against Ma during a legislative session on the first day of the war games. 'As commander-in-chief, Ma has disregarded his supreme command authority by choosing to skip the opening of our most important annual exercises for his chicken-rib diplomacy,' he said, likening Ma's diplomatic foray to an insubstantial soup ingredient, lacking in meat. The pro-independence camp - led by the DPP and including the Taiwan Solidarity Union - said Ma's 12-day visit to Africa was aimed at evading the controversies that dogged him at home. Lawmakers also criticised Ma for cancelling the live-fire drills of the war games this year and the rarity of his appearances at major military drills in the past four years. DPP lawmaker Hsueh Ling said that as the commander-in-chief of the military, Ma was not only undermining the armed forces' morale but also weakening the island's defences. The war games, which simulate attacks by the mainland, have been staged for 28 years. The five-day exercises this year focused on countering mainland troop landings and air and naval attacks in northern and southern Taiwan. There was widespread criticism of the absence of live-fire drills this year, with some commentators saying that not using live ammunition in important war games made them little more than 'child's play'. Ma told a press conference in Swaziland on April 16, the day before he left Africa, that he would not miss all the war drills and would attend them shortly after returning home. 'The government will never change its strategy of consolidation of defence capability and effective deterrence, despite warming cross-strait ties,' Ma said. He also vowed that his government would continue to replace obsolete weapons with new ones to strengthen Taiwan's defence capabilities. Ma's mainland engagement policy has helped ease cross-strait tensions that were stoked by his predecessor, Chen Shui-bian. Beijing repeatedly warned that it would attack Taiwan if Chen went too far in his pursuit of independence. Upon his return on April 18, Ma quickly went to the command headquarters in Taipei for an update on the progress of the Han Kuang exercises. On April 20, the last day of the drills, Ma went to a military site in Taoyuan, northern Taiwan, where he conducted a 30-minute inspection tour, with 24 minutes spent on a military briefing and other indoor activities, and six minutes on appearing in front of the troops. 'I have other schedules to keep,' Ma was quoted as saying by Taiwanese media in explaining his brief inspection. His short stay drew even harsher criticism from opposition lawmakers, and even some from the president's ruling Kuomintang accused Ma of damaging military morale. The Taiwanese media focused on Ma's six-minute appearance before the troops, saying he was just adding to the public's perception that he did not care about defence. Even the usually pro-Ma United Daily News said it was understandable that Ma would want to adopt a low-key approach to military affairs in the face of fast-warming cross-strait ties, but as the commander-in-chief he should have known that it was his obligation to win the respect of the troops and boost military morale. Defence ministry spokesman David Lo Shao-ho said the live-fire drills were removed to save energy and were part of the government's ongoing push to reduce pollution. But Wang Chih-peng, associate researcher at the Association for Managing Defence and Strategies, said it was absurd for the Ma government to say that live-fire drills was excluded to control carbon emissions and save energy. He also said the mainland had repeatedly upgraded its arsenal and stepped up live-fire drills and so the Ma government must avoid weakening the island's defences. The mainland's military budget for this year is US$106 billion, compared with Taiwan's US$10.7 billion. 'What Taiwan needs to do is to make effective and economical investments in military equipment to maximise its deterrence capabilities and force the mainland to consider the costs of attacking Taiwan,' said Lin Chong-pin, a former deputy defence minister, who now teaches international relations and military strategy at Tamkang University in Taipei. Lin said Taiwan could study how insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq fought the US military with inexpensive weapons and guerrilla tactics.