TAIPEI -- Taiwan began annual military exercises Monday that prepared for a full-scale invasion by China, including response to biological and chemical warfare.
The five-day live-fire portion of the Han Kuang exercise kicked off early Monday morning in eastern Taiwan, an area China considers a weak link. F-16V and Mirage 2000 fighter jets were dispatched to simulate a response to an armed invasion.
The drills come during a month in which 19 Chinese military aircraft entered Taiwan's air defense identification zone, and in the wake of Chinese exercises that analysts say were intended to simulate an invasion across the Taiwan Strait. Taipei is responding by pouring money into missiles and other investments that it hopes will help level an uneven playing field.
The Han Kuang exercise, held every year since 1984, spans Taiwan's main island as well as outlying islands, incorporating ground, sea and air forces. It envisions a wide range of avenues of potential attack -- not only missiles, but also landing operations, electronic warfare, cyberattacks and bioweapons.
In the southern city of Tainan, a biological agent containment exercise was held in response to a mock assault where troops were attacked by bioweapons.
Soldiers were promptly sent to nearby hospitals to be treated by civilian doctors, Taiwan's Central News Agency reported. The military also rehearsed its procedures for the decontamination of vehicles and equipment during the Tainan drill.
A drill scheduled for Wednesday in the southern county of Pingtung will have F-16s practice takeoffs and landings using regular roads as runways, in case the air base there is destroyed by a ballistic-missile strike.
Taiwan, being much weaker militarily than China, has adopted an asymmetric defense strategy centering on the main island that aims to keep Beijing's forces at as great a distance as possible, delaying an invasion and buying time for the U.S. or other powers to intervene.
President Tsai Ing-wen has put particular emphasis on long-range missiles.
Those weapons are "the most important part of asymmetric warfare," said Su Tzu-yun at Taiwan's Institute for National Defense and Security Research. "They're cheaper to manufacture than fighter jets or warships, and strengthen deterrence against China effectively."
Taiwan's Defense Ministry has put together an additional budget of 240 billion New Taiwan dollars ($8.67 billion) for mass production and development of long-range missiles. The cabinet is set to approve the relevant legislation as early as Thursday, after which it will be sent to the legislature as a priority item.
The cabinet late last month approved a record NT$471.7 billion defense budget proposal for 2022. If the missile legislation passes, defense spending would skyrocket after many years of hovering around NT$400 billion annually.
Taiwan has the second-densest concentration of missiles after Israel, with more than 6,000 said to be deployed on the main island. But these are largely short-range weapons -- like the anti-ship Hsiung Feng III, with a range of 40 to 200 km -- most that cannot reach the Chinese mainland. Taipei has deployed Hsiung Feng IIE land-attack cruise missiles with a range of 600 km, but not many.
The missile legislation is expected to boost development and manufacturing of medium- to long-range weapons like the Yun Feng, which can fly as far as 1,200 to 2,000 km.
The risk of an unintended clash around Taiwan is mounting. The revised Maritime Traffic Safety Law that China put into effect Sept. 1 restricts the passage of foreign ships through Chinese territorial waters. An American aircraft carrier sailed into the South China Sea last week, and China deployed military aircraft in response.
Beijing has been irked by Washington's perceived meddling with Taiwan. Chinese President Xi Jinping criticized U.S. policy toward Taiwan in a call last week with U.S. President Joe Biden, according to a Chinese readout.
Beyond its missile arsenal, Taiwan also looks to address the huge imbalance in personnel with China, whose People's Liberation Army has roughly 2 million troops to Taipei's fewer than 200,000. Taiwan has a reserve force estimated at roughly 2 million, and a new defense mobilization agency set to be established Jan. 1 will lead an effort to call up 260,000 annually.
Aging equipment is another challenge. While the U.S. inked a string of arms deals with Taiwan under previous U.S. President Donald Trump to put pressure on China, Washington had before then slashed sales to Taipei out of concern about relations with Beijing. Taiwan's navy last week commissioned a homegrown "carrier killer" warship as part of a plan to modernize its fleet.
This year's annual Global Firepower military strength ranking puts U.S., Russia and China in the top three slots, with Japan placing fifth. Taiwan came in at No. 22, up from 26th last year.