PINGTUNG, Taiwan: Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen urged the island’s army to improve its performance after a string of accidents, promising to help upgrade equipment as she presided over military drills on Thursday.
The war games in the southern county of Pingtung, the first of Tsai’s presidency, are part of an annual military exercise which simulates incoming attacks from China, the biggest threat to Taiwan’s security.
Relations with the mainland have grown increasing frosty since Tsai won the island’s presidency in January.
Beijing is highly suspicious of Tsai, whose Democratic Progressive Party is traditionally pro-independence, and has warned her against any attempt at a formal breakaway.
Tsai said Thursday that Taiwan’s army “needs a set of firm directions” and instructed the defense ministry to work on updating its military strategy.
“Some of the challenges faced by our army come from external structural limitations, others are because our performance isn’t good enough,” she said at a Pingtung army base after watching fighter jets and tanks fire live rounds.
Thursday’s war games included more than 100 paratroopers mimicking enemies attempting to invade an army base.
Wearing a bullet-proof vest and helmet, Tsai told soldiers and spectators that the military has been too slow upgrading its equipment and pledged to make the issue a priority.
The president’s comments come as the military struggles with its image after back-to-back missteps since she came to power.
During her speech, Tsai paid respects to four soldiers who died last week when their tank slipped and plunged into a river during heavy rains.
The incident follows the accidental firing of a supersonic “aircraft carrier killer” missile towards China last month, which sparked an uproar in Taiwan and a stern rebuke from Beijing.
Tsai also pledged to further develop the military’s capabilities. Taiwan currently buys most of its weapons from the United States.
Late last year, Washington announced a massive $1.8 billion arms sale to Taiwan, the first to the island in four years.
China — which has 1,500 missiles aimed at Taiwan — insists the island is part of its territory awaiting reunification.