TAIPEI ? Taiwan and China Thursday staged their biggest ever joint maritime search and rescue drill, near waters where the two sides fought fierce battles half a century ago, officials said.
More than 30 vessels and three helicopters took part in the exercise off Kinmen, a Taiwan-controlled island group near China's Xiamen city, Taiwan's Coast Guard Administration said in a statement.
Around 400 people from coast guard, rescue and maritime support units from the two sides took part in the drill, according to the statement.
"The purpose of the drill was to check how responsible units from Taiwan and the mainland will react to maritime accidents," the Coast Guard Administration said.
The drill played out a scenario where a passenger ship shuttling between Kinmen and Xiamen hits a cargo vessel, causing fires and leaving some passengers in the sea, it said.
Exercises of this type were agreed in earlier talks between Taiwan's chief negotiator Chiang Pin-kung and his Chinese counterpart Chen Yunlin.
Kinmen was the scene of fierce battles in the 1940s and 1950s when the Chinese military repeatedly tried to conquer the island group.
Now peaceful exchanges have taken over, and so far people from Taiwan and China have made more than 1.28 million visits using a ferry that links Kinmen and Xiamen.
Taiwan and China held the first ever such drill in 2008, but on the Taiwan side only the Kinmen county government joined the drill then, mobilising one ship.
China still considers Taiwan part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary, even though the island has governed itself since 1949 at the end of a civil war.
Ties have improved markedly since 2008 after Ma Ying-jeou of the China-friendly Kuomintang became president of Taiwan, beefing up trade, inaugurating direct flights and allowing more Chinese tourists to visit the island.