SUAO (Reuters) - At a time of rising tension with Beijing, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen on Friday presided over a military drill by the self-ruled island’s navy for the first time since she took office in 2016.
The exercise, which involved no live fire, came days after China’s navy held its largest-ever military display and Beijing announced plans to hold live-fire military drills in the Taiwan Strait.
China claims Taiwan as its sacred territory, under its “one China” policy, and Beijing has never renounced the use of force to bring what it sees as a wayward province under its control.
Tsai boarded a warship off Suao on Taiwan’s east coast to observe the drill, which the defence ministry said aimed to test the military’s rapid response capability to defend Taiwan.
“I believe our nationals should feel very confident about our army’s determination to defend and protect our country,” Tsai, who is chief commander of Taiwan’s armed forces, said aboard the warship after the drill.
Asked by a reporter if the event was aimed at competing with Xi, Tsai urged people “not to over-read” the situation, saying her inspection was just the first of a series.
The army could safeguard Taiwan, she said, adding that her trip to the southern African nation of Swaziland, set from Tuesday to April 21, would not be affected by China’s plans for live-fire drills.
Taiwan’s policy-making Mainland Affairs Council has said China’s drills would not go down well with Taiwanese people and urged China to engage in rational communication to ensure peace across the Strait.
China’s hostility has risen since Tsai’s election, as it suspects she wants to push for formal independence, which would cross a red line for Communist Party leaders in Beijing.
It voiced opposition this week to the United States selling weapons to Taiwan, after the Trump administration approved a marketing licence required by American manufacturers to sell technology to Taiwan that would allow submarines to be built.
The licence was an important step and a spur for Taiwan’s plans to build its own naval vessels, Tsai said on Friday.