Taiwanese Defence Minister Feng Shih-kuan (R) visits the International Maritime and Defense Industry Exposition in Kaohsiung, Taiwan September 16, 2016. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
Taiwan’s navy will step up regular patrols around the South China Sea and conduct joint training with the air force in response to China’s growing military power in the region, the island’s defense minister said on Thursday.
“Looking ahead at the transformation of China’s strategy and its investment in new weapons equipment, our military will practice new reforms in our training,” Feng Shih-kuan told a parliamentary session.
“The navy, during its regular South China Sea patrols, will conduct joint training with the air force in protecting fishermen and supply transports, and in humanitarian rescue drills to expand the combat readiness of our sea and air patrols,” Feng said in presenting the ministry’s latest report.
Taiwan deploys regular supplies to Itu Aba, its sole holding in the disputed South China Sea, the energy rich waters that is also claimed by China, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei.
Feng’s remarks come ahead of China’s new defense budget for 2017, to be unveiled on the weekend at the annual meeting of the Chinese parliament. The figures are closely watched around the region and in Washington for clues to China’s intentions.
Self-ruled Taiwan is increasingly concerned over China’s military threat. Beijing has never renounced the use of force to take back what it deems a wayward province.
Beijing has regularly flown Chinese military jets over the South China Sea and recently sailed its first aircraft carrier around Taiwan in what it called routine drills.
The need for China to practice these drills in bigger air and sea space, particularly in the Pacific Ocean to Taiwan’s east, represents “an increase in threat”, Feng said.
“The deployment of this force is done entirely for the security of our country,” Feng said when asked by a lawmaker about the positioning of a surface-to-air anti-missile system, the Patriot Advanced Capability, on Taiwan’s eastern coast. The Patriot anti-missile system is among Taiwan’s defense wares.
(Reporting by J.R. Wu; Editing by Michael Perry)