Hualien, Taiwan: Taiwan’s military Tuesday lifted the veil on how it would respond to a massive Chinese air attack, showing that the island still takes the risk of war very seriously despite improving ties.
Journalists were invited for the first time to a drill simulating aerial assaults on Taiwan’s major air bases and testing the military’s ability to recover quickly from such a shock.
The manoeuvres, staged at a military air base near Hualien city in eastern Taiwan, played out a scenario in which runways were bombed by waves of bombers or missiles from the mainland.
“The drill is aimed to test our ability to repair runways as soon as possible so that fighter jets can take off should the air base be attacked,” air force spokesman Lieutenant General Pan Kung-hsiao told reporters.
The exercise involved hundreds of troops, some operating heavy engineering equipment such as bulldozers, hydraulic shovels and bomb disposal engines.
Pilots and logistic supply staff also demonstrated emergency procedures for four French-made Mirage fighter jets, which were ready for take-off six minutes after being scrambled.
Military analysts say any Chinese invasion of Taiwan would be preceded by saturation air bombardment meant to wipe out civilian and military airports and key government facilities and paralyse transportation systems.
Tuesday’s exercise came after a Chinese flotilla, including two submarines and eight other ships, conducted drills in the East China Sea near Okinawa and then moved to the Pacific Ocean, according to Japanese media.
The appearance of the Chinese fleet — the largest assembly of Chinese warships ever spotted in the region, according to Japan’s defence ministry — has triggered alarms in Taiwan.
Taiwan’s Deputy Defence Minister Chao Shih-chang warned in parliament Monday the operation indicated China was now able to bypass the island’s fortified west and attack the island from the east.
Ties between Taipei and Beijing have improved markedly since Ma Ying-jeou of the China-friendly Kuomintang party came to power in 2008, pledging to boost trade links and allowing in more Chinese tourists.
But Beijing still maintains it could use force against the island, which it regards as part of its territory since their split in 1949 at the end of a civil war.