Taiwan conducts two-day live fire exercise on strategic island between its coast and China – Copyright AFP Sam Yeh
A group of French lawmakers landed in Taiwan on Wednesday. This is the first high-level European delegation since China held large-scale military exercises in protest against the visit to the island of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The trip came as Taiwan conducted a two-day live fire exercise on a strategic island that lies between its coast and China.
Democracy exists under the constant threat of invasion by authoritarian China, which demands that the self-governing island as part of its territory be once captured.
Beijing lashes out at any diplomatic move that might give Taiwan legitimacy, and is reacting with growing anger to visits from Western officials and politicians.
The delegation of five French lawmakers is led by Senator Cyril Pelleva, Taiwan’s foreign ministry said, adding that it was the fourth visit by French politicians in the past 12 months.
Last month, China sent warships, missiles and fighter jets into the waters and skies around Taiwan to protest the presence of Pelosi, its biggest and most aggressive exercise since the mid-1990s.
Pelosi, a seasoned critic of Beijing, was the highest-ranking US politician to visit Taiwan in 25 years. It was followed in August by several separate US delegations.
China’s massive military exercise has sparked widespread support in the United States for solidarity with Taiwan, which already enjoys rare bipartisan support on Capitol Hill.
Many European powers have also stepped up their support for Taiwan in recent years, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has fueled fears that China might do the same to its neighbor.
The island is regularly visited by politicians from European countries.
Beijing is taking an increasingly belligerent approach to Taiwan under President Xi Jinping, the most authoritarian Chinese leader in a generation.
Xi, who is on the cusp of an unprecedented third term of re-election, has tied Taiwan’s fate to his landmark “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” policy.
Like most countries, the US and France officially recognize Beijing, not Taipei.
But both remain key allies of Taiwan and maintain de facto diplomatic relations with the island.
Washington’s official policy is against both Taiwan’s declaration of independence and China’s forced change of the island’s status.
– “Prepare, but do not seek war” –
On Tuesday, Taiwanese troops held an impressive nighttime live fire exercise on Pingtung Island, which lies between mainland China and Taiwan and would need to be captured in the event of any invasion.
The tanks were illuminated by sudden bursts of flame as they fired their projectiles, and the tracer rounds arced through the night sky.
“We will prepare for war, but we will not strive for war,” battalion commander Huang Ching-feng told reporters.
“We will continue training to improve the combat skills of every soldier.”
The exercise continued on Wednesday with tanks, combat helicopters and mobile rocket launchers conducting firing exercises.