Taiwan kicked off its largest annual live-fire military exercise – the first under new President Tsai Ing-wen – yesterday as the island’s army struggles with its image following a series of accidents.
Codenamed “Han Kuang 32” (Han Glory), the drills lasting five days are designed to test how Taiwan’s armed forces would repel an attack from China.
Relations with China have grown increasingly frosty since Tsai of the Democratic Progressive Party won the presidency in January.
Beijing is highly suspicious of Tsai because her party is traditionally pro-independence, and has warned her against any attempt at a breakaway.
Tsai is expected to preside over parts of the drills as the military show off its latest weapons including locally developed drones and newly acquired attack helicopters.
But the first day of the drills – which included troops defending army bases and loading assault vehicles onto warships – got off on the wrong foot as a military truck swerved off a road and fell into farmland, according to the defence ministry.
One soldier sustained a head injury in the accident and was sent to hospital, it added in a statement.
It comes on the heels of a fatal accident last week when a tank plunged into a river, killing four soldiers.
The biggest military slip-up under Tsai’s administration was when a Taiwanese warship mistakenly launched a supersonic “aircraft carrier killer” missile towards China last month, hitting a fishing boat and killing one person, prompting a stern rebuke from Beijing.
The gaffe sparked uproar in Taiwan, with questions asked about the military’s competence.
Taiwan has been self-ruling since splitting with the mainland in 1949 following a civil war, but has never formally declared independence.
Beijing still sees it as part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.
According to a defence ministry report last year, the People’s Liberation Army has increased the number of ballistic and cruise missiles targeting the democratic island.
China launched missiles into waters off Taiwan in 1995 and 1996 in an attempt to deter voters in the island’s first democratic presidential elections.
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