Taiwan launches into combat training with plans for live-fire drill to fend off mainland China attack

  • Exercise to feature range of weaponry but not linked to Beijing’s unification call, source says
  • Taiwanese president accuses Beijing of sending spies to the island
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 January, 2019, 7:01pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 January, 2019, 10:51pm

Taiwan will stage a live-fire drill on the island next week, the first in a series of exercises this year to test the military’s ability to fend off an attack from mainland China.

According to a notice from the 10th Army Corps, a drill simulating an invasion via the city of Taichung will be held in Fanzailiao in central Taiwan early on January 17.

“The drill will involve weapons launched from the air, sea and land,” the corps said.

A military source said the 1½-hour exercise was expected to feature indigenous Thunderbolt-2000 multiple launch rocket systems along with a number of rockets, AH-64E Apache attack helicopters, Hellfire missiles, and various types of cannons.

The source said the drill was not in response to comments last week by Chinese President Xi Jinping urging the self-ruled island to start unification with the mainland.

“The drill has nothing to do with the recent speech by ... Xi Jinping. It was planned long before Xi made the ‘one country, two systems’ comment earlier this month,” the source said.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen open to cross-strait talks, but has some demands for Beijing first

Marking the 40th anniversary of a ceasefire across the Taiwan Strait, Xi called for unification talks with Taiwan based on the “one country, two systems” model, a system adopted for Hong Kong and Macau.

That call was rejected by Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, who said most people on Taiwan opposed one country, two systems, seeing it as Beijing’s attempt to annex Taiwan. Other political parties, including the mainland-friendly Kuomintang, have also said that model has no market on the island.

The comments highlighted the divide between Beijing and Taipei. Ties between the two sides have worsened since Tsai was elected president in 2016 and refused to accept the “one-China” principle, an understanding that Beijing considers essential for any exchanges.

The principle is based on the idea that there is only one China but that each side can have their own interpretation of what that means.

Beijing has suspended official exchanges and talks with the island, staged a series of war games to intimidate Taipei, and poached five of Taiwan’s allies to try to force Tsai to acknowledge the principle.

Instead, Tsai has promised to increase the military’s budget, foster locally built weapons and buy equipment overseas, mainly from the United States, which has agreed to supply defensive weapons to Taipei as part of its Indo-Pacific strategy to counter Beijing.

At a graduation ceremony at the Justice Ministry’s Investigation Bureau – Taiwan’s equivalent to the US’ Federal Bureau of Investigation – on Thursday, Tsai accused Beijing of sending people to the island to gather intelligence.

She said investigators cracked 52 alleged espionage cases and arrested 174 mainlanders in 2018 alone on suspicion of gathering intelligence, infiltrating or enlisting Taiwanese as part of spy networks on the island, the United Daily News reported.

“Taiwan welcomes friends from the mainland to visit, and two to three million mainland visitors travel to Taiwan each year, but ‘someone’ has tried to made use of our free policy by sending people to Taiwan for espionage activities, which has seriously threatened our national security,” she was quoted as saying.

In September, Beijing accused Taipei of blackmailing visiting university students into gathering intelligence about mainland China, and claimed to have cracked more than 100 espionage cases involving the self-ruled island, allegations Tsai and her government denied.