TAIPEI — Taiwan’s annual military drills will for the first time involve defending the island’s main international airport and also practice how to keep the sea lanes open in the event of a Chinese blockade, officials said on Tuesday.

China, which views democratically governed Taiwan as its own territory, has ramped up military pressure in the past three years to try to assert its sovereignty claim.

China practiced precision strikes and blockades in drills around the island in April after Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen met US House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy in Los Angeles.

Taiwan’s defense ministry said the Han Kuang exercises in late July would see the military defending Taoyuan international airport, the island’s most important air link with the rest of the world, from an airborne assault of paratroopers and helicopters.

Meanwhile, fighter jets would land and take off at Taitung’s civilian Fengnin airport on the east coast, to simulate it acting as a backup if runways are destroyed at air bases during a war.

“The Taoyuan airport (part) is aimed at the enemy threat and designed with its main focus as anti-airborne exercises,” Lin Wen-huang, who heads Taiwan’s defense ministry’s combat and planning department, told a news conference.

“Fengnin is a backup airport and will be engaged in related take-offs, landings and replenishment to maintain air combat power.”

Meanwhile at sea, the armed forces will practice “saturation attacks” on enemy ships including amphibious assault ships, and “anti-blockade escorts”, Lin added.

Taiwan’s traditional military thinking during a conflict has been to use its mountainous east coast, especially the two major air bases there, as a place to regroup and preserve its forces given it does not directly face China unlike Taiwan’s west coast.

But China has increasingly been flexing its muscles off Taiwan’s east coast, sailing warships and flying warplanes there and showing its ability to operate much further away from China’s own coastline. — Reuters