Taiwanese F-16 fighters roared into the night sky on Wednesday in a show of force in front of the media, demonstrating the determination of the armed forces to defend the democratically governed island in the face of extensive Chinese war games.
China, which claims Taiwan as its territory, has been holding military exercises on the island following a visit earlier this month by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. who was followed by five US lawmakers on Sunday and Monday.
Pelosi’s visit angered China, which responded by launching ballistic missile test over Taipei for the first time and sent warships and fighter planes near Taiwanalthough the scale of activities has now been reduced considerably.
On a government-organized trip to the key Hualien air base on Taiwan’s mountainous east coast, the first to a military installation since the Chinese exercises began, reporters watched ground personnel demonstrate how they quickly load weapons onto F-16s, including Harpoon Anti-Ship Missiles.
Defense Ministry spokesman Sun Li-fang told reporters at the base that while they condemned China’s actions, this was a good opportunity for the Taiwanese forces to hone their skills.
“We will take this opportunity to test all the training we normally do and, through this, improve our current methods and increase our combat effectiveness,” he said.
“The ROC forces are confident, capable and determined to uphold the security of the ROC,” added Sun, using the Taiwan’s formal name.
While Taiwanese fighters, including Hualien’s F-16s, have been repeatedly agitated since earlier this month, the ministry has emphasized Taiwan’s “calm” response and there have been no clashes.
“I will not say that there are many changes, but our fight frequency is higher and the tension is higher,” said F-16 pilot Django Lin.
The President of Taiwan Tsai Ing-wen has said that they do not seek to provoke or increase tensions.
The Hualien base, which has hangars cut into the side of a mountain, has two pilots on duty at any one time sitting in their flight suits and able to be in the air in six minutes.
The fighters on display were the Lockheed Martin Corp F-16VTaiwan’s most modern combat aircraft.
Taiwan has been converting 141 F-16A/B aircraft to the F-16V type and has additionally ordered 66 new F-16Vs, which have new avionics, weapons, and radar systems to better engage the Chinese air force, including its J-20 stealth fighters.
The F-16Vs can also carry advanced AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missiles from Raytheon Technologies Corp.
Taiwan’s government says as the People’s Republic of China has never ruled the island, it has no right to claim it or decide its futurewhich can only be established by the people of Taiwan.
Aside from his military threats, China imposed visa bans and other sanctions on Taiwanese politicians on Tuesday. China has no legal authority over Taiwan and it is not clear what effect such sanctions would have.
China has refused to engage in any contact with the Taiwanese government since Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party was elected in 2016. Tsai was overwhelmingly re-elected in 2020.
The PDP also controls the legislature, and the vast majority of Taiwanese support maintaining the status quo of de facto independence along with strong social and economic ties between the two territories.
China accuses Washington of encouraging the independence of the island through the sale of weapons and contacts with Taiwanese politicians. The United States insists that it is not pro-independence and has no formal diplomatic ties with the island, but that it is legally obligated to make sure Taiwan can defend itself against China.
Apart from placing its armed forces on alert, Taiwan has largely dismissed Chinese military maneuvers and life goes on as normal on the island of 23 million people, which has been shadowed by Chinese military threats for seven decades. .
(With information from Reuters and AP)