Taiwan shows force in biggest live-fire drill since 2008

Taiwan staged its biggest live-fire drill since 2008 Wednesday, in an operation involving more than 7000 troops that simulated a Chinese attack as its leader warned of Beijing's arms build-up.

The operation, part of a five-day round-the-clock annual exercise codenamed "Han Kuang 29" (Han Glory 29), took place on the Penghu Islands in the middle of the 180-kilometre (110-mile) strait separating Taiwan from the Chinese mainland.

A cross-military-force involving the army, navy and air force were carrying out drills aimed at preparing a defence of the strategically important islands from a surprise Chinese attack.

Taiwanese officials said the operation involved a test of the Ray Ting 2000 or "Thunder 2000" multiple-launch rocket system designed to prevent the enemy from making an amphibious landing.

President Ma Ying-jeou, who initiated Taipei's much-touted detente with Beijing, said the live-fire exercise was a reminder of the lingering threat from China.

"(In) the past few years, the Chinese communists have conducted a massive arms build-up in both quality and quantity following fast economic development. In the face of the threat, we have to make some preparations if we are to sustain peace in the Taiwan Strait," Ma said.

Last month China announced a further double-digit rise in its defence budget, raising it by 10.7 percent to 720.2 billion yuan ($116.3 billion) in 2013.

Chinese media reported that Beijing had agreed to buy two dozen Su-35 fighter jets and four Lada-class submarines from Russia, the country's first large-scale weapons technology purchases from Moscow in a decade.

Wednesday's manoeuvre kicked off at 6:00 am (2200 GMT Tuesday) when waves of rockets were launched from mobile launchers carried on nine trucks as part of the military's bids to deter the enemy's simulated amphibious landing.

A total of 81 rockets were fired, which could wipe out targets in a zone the size of nearly 80 square kilometres, the military said.

Flanked by a fleet of F-16s, Indigenous Defence Fighters and F-5Es, the army forces also mobilised M60-A3 tanks, howitzers and mortars to fire on seaborne targets while the navy mobilised a Perry-class frigate and six missile boats.

Ma's presence overseeing the drill sparked various political interpretations, with some saying the leader -- who has come under fire in recent years for intentionally staying away from military exercises as part of his peace overture towards Beijing -- was using the exercise to help boost low approval ratings.

Others said the move was to underline a tough stance towards Beijing as a new Chinese leadership pushes for further dialogue following previous talks that led to the opening of direct flights across the strait and the signing of a comprehensive trade agreement.

China still considers Taiwan part of its territory and has vowed to take it back even if it means war, and even though the island has governed itself since their split in 1949 at the end of a civil war.

But ties have improved markedly since Ma from the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang party came to power in 2008 on a platform of beefing up trade and tourism links.

He was re-elected in January 2012 for a second and last four-year term.