December 19, 2008 / 5:07 AM / 9 years ago

Taiwan scales down military exercises amid thaw with China

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan will hold live-fire military drills, seen as a sign of defiance against rival China, once every two years instead of annually amid a thaw in relations between the two sides, a defence official said on Friday.

Communist China has claimed sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan since 1949, when Mao Zedong’s forces won the Chinese civil war and Chiang Kai-shek’s KMT fled to Taiwan. Beijing has vowed to bring Taiwan under its rule, by force if necessary.

But China-friendly Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou’s government has eased tension by signing trade and transit deals with Beijing while avoiding displays of sovereignty over the island.

The live-fire portion of the Han Kuang exercises will skip 2009 and every second year thereafter, the official said. Previous exercises have included live-fire displays and the landing of fighter jets on a section of closed freeway.

“I assume they’re just making friends with China,” said Wendell Minnick, Asia bureau chief with Defense News. “They’re doing this to placate China.”

Cutting back on the exercises would give the military more time to fix problems in areas such as intelligence and support, the official said, rejecting a China connection.

“In order to correct defects and mistakes, we’ve decided to hold the exercise every two years,” he said. “It has nothing to do with politics.”

A series of year-end air defence exercises and the computer-simulated phase of Han Kuang would continue to take place annually, he said.

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