Ready 24 hours a day - Taiwan showcases anti-aircraft mettle

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By Aleksander Solum and Ann Wang

HUALIEN, Taiwan (Reuters) - Taiwan's air force showcased its anti-aircraft capabilities on Thursday, saying they were ready for action 24 hours a day as the democratically governed island faces sustained pressure from Chinese military drills.

China, which claims Taiwan as its territory, has been carrying out exercises around the island after a visit this month by U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was followed by five U.S. lawmakers on Sunday and Monday.

Pelosi's visit infuriated China, which responded with test launches of ballistic missiles over Taipei for the first time, and sent warships and fighter jets close to Taiwan.

On a government-organised trip for media to Taiwan's key east coast air base in Hualien, the Air Force showed off its anti-aircraft systems, including the domestically developed Sky Bow III surface-to-air missiles.

Also on display was the Oerlikon GDF-006 35mm anti-aircraft gun, which officers demonstrated how to set up and how it was aimed at incoming aircraft.

Air defense crews said the increased tensions, including the recent Chinese drills, did not faze them.

"We were not nervous at all at that time, as our regular training is prepared for all-day, 24-hour missile operations," said air defense officer Chen Te-huan. "When the Chinese military acted, we were already well prepared."

Although Taiwan's air force has been at the front lines of responding to China's drills, including regularly scrambling aircraft to see off Chinese fighters that get close to the island, the government has stressed its "calm response", and there have been no clashes.

China has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control.

Taiwan's government says that because the People's Republic of China has never ruled the island, it has no right to claim it or decide its future, which can only be set by Taiwan's people.

(Reporting by Aleksander Solum and Ann Wang; Writing by Ben Blanchard. Editing by Gerry Doyle)