Taiwan’s president thanks fighter pilots who scrambled against China’s ‘punishment’ drills

  • Taiwan’s President Lai Ching-te expressed gratitude to fighter pilots who scrambled against China during military exercises near Taiwan last week.
  • China, which claims democratically ruled Taiwan as its own territory, conducted military drills around the island as “punishment” for President Lai’s inaugural speech that week.
  • Rai said the pilots are on standby around the clock in shifts to carry out aerial patrol missions.

Taiwan’s President Lai Ching-te was briefed on the incident at the frontline air base on Tuesday and thanked the fighter pilots who scrambled against China during military drills around Taiwan last week.

China, which claims democratically ruled Taiwan as its own territory, launched the two-day drills last Thursday in what it called “punishment” for President Lai Ming’s inaugural speech earlier this week. Taiwan has condemned the exercises.

China says Lai is a “separatist” and has never renounced the use of force to maintain control over Taiwan. Lai rejects Beijing’s claims of sovereignty, saying only the Taiwanese people should decide Taiwan’s future, and has offered multiple talks.

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During a visit to Hualien Air Base on the east coast, home to Taiwan’s most advanced F-16V fighter jets, Lai had lunch with some of the pilots who had been scrambled during training.

“I want to thank all our brothers and sisters who stood their ground and safeguarded our national security,” he added. “You all did a good job responding to the Chinese military exercises over the past few days.”

Lai said he had received a detailed briefing on the pilots’ response and the capabilities of Taiwan’s fighter jets.

Taiwan’s President Lai Ching-te visits soldiers and air force personnel in Hualien, Taiwan, May 28, 2024. (Reuters/Ann Wang)

“All of you are on shift around the clock, on air patrol duty,” he added. “With your strong determination and superior combat skills, you are harnessing the full power of air combat power to protect our nation’s airspace.”

The soldiers also demonstrated how to load and fire the howitzer for Lai.

Some of the hangars at Hualien base are carved into the mountainside to protect them from air raids.

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Taiwan is upgrading 141 Lockheed Martin F-16A/B fighter jets to the F-16V version and has also ordered 66 more of the planes with new avionics, weapons and radar systems to counter an air force that includes China’s J-20 stealth fighter.

The F-16V can also carry Raytheon Technologies’ advanced AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missiles.

Taiwan’s government maintains that the People’s Republic of China has never governed Taiwan and therefore has no right to claim it or determine its future.