Taiwan drills military as concerns grow over China

Published September 16, 2021
In this photo released by the Taiwan Military News Agency, a Taiwan artillery unit conducts a live firing drill to deter a coastal landing force during the Han Guang exercise held on the island of Penghu county on Wednesday. — AP
In this photo released by the Taiwan Military News Agency, a Taiwan artillery unit conducts a live firing drill to deter a coastal landing force during the Han Guang exercise held on the island of Penghu county on Wednesday. — AP

JIADONG: The F-16 screeched across the sky on Wednesday before landing on a highway cut through pineapple fields in southwestern Taiwan to refuel quickly and take off again.

The Taiwanese military exercise envisioned a Chinese attack taking out the island’s main airfields, necessitating the use of rural roads as runways to carry on the fight.

War is not imminent, but as China has grown increasingly assertive in both the East China and South China Seas, Taiwan is stepping up its defence. Across the region, the United States and its allies are deepening military cooperation and strategising over an effective response.

China, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory, flies fighter jets towards Taiwan on a regular basis in an effort to warn and intimidate the island’s air force. Last month, Chinese fighter jets, anti-submarine aircraft and combat ships conducted joint assault drills near Taiwan with China saying the exercise was necessary to safeguard its sovereignty.

US President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced a meeting next week with key regional players that form the so-called Quad — India, Australia and Japan — together with the US for in-person talks the White House said are meant to show the administration’s commitment to promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian slammed the US for forming exclusive cliques after the meeting was announced and countered that China was a firm defender of regional peace and stability.

China’s development is a growing force for peace in the world and a boon to the prosperity and development of the region, he said. The countries concerned should abandon the outdated zero-sum mentality and narrow-minded geopolitical thinking.

Japan, a US ally that hosts the US Navy’s 7th Fleet, has long moved cautiously with regard to China, an important trading partner. But it has recently become less reserved in the face of Beijing’s growing military activity and broad territorial claims in the western Pacific, including to a group of islands near Taiwan that Japan controls.

Masahisa Sato, a senior lawmaker of the governing Liberal Democratic Party and an expert on defence, told a recent forum on security in Asia that right now the US-Japan alliance is focused largely on a response to a possible conflict stemming from the Korean Peninsula, and it needs to be broadened to consider what to do if there is a Chinese attack on Taiwan.

He noted that the Sakishima island group, which includes some of Okinawa’s remote islands, is right next to Taiwan and is part of the same theatre. “We should consider a Taiwan contingency as nearly equal to a Japan contingency,” Sato said.

All three candidates running on Sept 29 to become Japan’s new leader are proposing hawkish policies toward China, though still acknowledging its importance as a trading partner.

Taro Kono, the minister in charge of vaccinations who is seen as a front runner, has said he will seek to establish a regional framework that adds to Japan’s alliance with the United States in countering China’s growing military activity.

Published in Dawn, September 16th, 2021

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