ZHUMADIAN, China: Chinese soldiers take part in a counterterrorism exercise during the multinational UN peacekeeping live exercise 'Shared Destiny-2021' held by Chinese military at a tactical training base of the Chinese People's Liberation Army in Zhumadian, central China's Henan province yesterday. - AFP

ZHUMADIAN: China wrapped up the country's first multinational peacekeeping exercise yesterday, demonstrating the extent of its military might on a huge training ground ringed by mountains. China's defense spending is the second largest in the world after the US, and tensions have dramatically increased between rival powers as Beijing has poured trillions of yuan into the modernization of its military. But the country has repeatedly sought to allay fears over its military intentions, projecting itself as a peaceful counterpoint to what it calls the "bullying, hegemonic behavior" of Washington.

Troops from Thailand, Mongolia and Pakistan joined China's armed forces for the 10-day exercise dubbed "Shared Destiny 2021" at the military base in Queshan county in central Henan province. Senior Colonel Lu Jianxin told journalists invited to the base that the exercise "demonstrates China's support for the multilateral system centered on the UN" as Beijing sought to put its defense diplomacy on full display. Blue-helmeted soldiers took turns role-playing various scenarios: civilians and refugees caught up in a brawl, or armed militants attacking UN forces.

Dozens of armored vehicles, bulldozers, helicopters and tanks - all bearing the UN logo - were mobilized for the event. As of the end of July, China was the eighth-largest contributor to peacekeeping troops, with 2,158 military personnel engaged around the world, according to UN data. Chinese forces are mainly engaged in South Sudan, Mali, Lebanon and the Democratic Republic of Congo. During her trip to Asia last month, US Vice President Kamala Harris described China's disputes with its neighbors over the South China Sea as undermining "the rules-based order and threaten[ing] the sovereignty of nations".

Invasion wargame

In another development, fighter jets practiced landing on a highway in southern Taiwan yesterday as part of an annual live-fire military exercise that simulates defending the island against an invasion by China. Democratic Taiwan lives under constant threat of invasion by Beijing, which claims the island as part of its territory and has vowed to one day seize it, by force if necessary.

Military tensions have risen to their highest in decades under President Xi Jinping with China now routinely sending fighter jets and nuclear capable bombers into Taiwan's air defense zone and state media regularly publicizing invasion drills. Yesterday morning, various Taiwanese fighter jets as well as an early warning aircraft practised taking off and landing on a provincial highway in Pingtung county.

The drill, which was watched by President Tsai Ing-wen, is supposed to hone Taiwanese pilot skills if the island's airstrips are wiped out. "Such excellent combat skills, precise and swift movements come from rigorous training and demonstrate the air force's confidence to protect our airspace," Tsai said in a post on her Facebook. Part of its annual Han Kuang military exercises, yesterday's drill took place on one of five highways that have been deliberately built with long sections that can accommodate planes landing.

An invasion of Taiwan would be a hugely costly and difficult endeavor but Beijing has increasingly closed the military gap in recent years and Xi has made no secret of his desire to see the island taken. Senior US generals have publicly warned that China could potentially carry off an invasion and the defense of Taiwan has become a rare bipartisan issue in Washington. Last year Chinese jets and bombers made a record 380 incursions into Taiwan's air defense identification zone (ADIZ).

The number of incursions for the first eight months of this year has already exceeded 400. In June, 28 Chinese jets breached Taiwan's ADIZ in the largest single-day incursion. That came shortly after G7 leaders issued a landmark statement urging peace in the Taiwan Strait. The previous biggest incursion - 25 jets-was in April after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned China not to attempt to change the status quo of Taiwan. Taiwan's ageing fighter fleet has suffered a string of fatal accidents in recent years as its air force is kept under constant pressure by China. - AFP