Taiwan held two days of live fire drills on a strategic island between its coast and China – Copyright AFP Sam Yeh
A group of French lawmakers landed in Taiwan on Wednesday, the first high-level European delegation since China conducted huge war drills to protest a visit to the island by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The trip came as Taiwan held two days of live fire drills on a strategic island that lies between its coast and China.
The democracy exists under constant threat of an invasion by authoritarian China, which claims the self-ruled island as part of its territory to be seized one day.
Beijing lashes out at any diplomatic action that might lend Taiwan legitimacy, and has responded with growing anger to visits by Western officials and politicians.
The delegation of five French lawmakers is being led by Senator Cyril Pellevat, Taiwan’s foreign ministry said, adding 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 in a show of opposition to Pelosi’s presence — its largest and most aggressive exercises since the mid-1990s.
Pelosi, a veteran Beijing critic, was the most senior US politician to visit Taiwan in 25 years. She was followed by multiple separate US delegations in August.
China’s huge war drills triggered widespread support in the United States for solidarity with Taiwan, which already has rare bipartisan support on Capitol Hill.
Many European powers have also grown more vocal in support of Taiwan in recent years, while Russia invading Ukraine has deepened fears China might do the same to its neighbour.
Politicians from European countries regularly visit the island.
Beijing has adopted an increasingly bellicose approach to Taiwan under President Xi Jinping, China’s most authoritarian leader in a generation.
Xi, who is on the cusp of securing an unprecedented third term, has hitched Taiwan’s fate to his landmark “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” policy.
Like most nations, the United States and France officially recognise Beijing over Taipei.
But they both remain key allies of Taiwan and maintain de facto diplomatic ties with the island.
Washington’s official policy opposes both Taiwan declaring independence and China forcibly changing the island’s status.
– ‘Prepare but not seek war’ –
On Tuesday Taiwanese troops carried out dramatic nighttime live fire drills on the island of Pingtung, which lies between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan and would need to be seized in any invasion.
Tanks were illuminated by sudden flashes of flame as they fired shells while tracer rounds arced across the night sky.
“We will prepare for war but will not seek war,” Huang Jing-feng, Battalion Commanding Officer, told reporters.
“We will carry on training to elevate each soldier’s combat skills.”
The drills continued Wednesday — with tanks, combat helicopters and mobile missile launchers conducting firing exercises.