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

Taiwan President Lai Ching-te thanked fighter pilots who had scrambled against China last week during its war games around the island, as he was briefed on the events at a frontline air base on Tuesday.

China, which claims democratically-governed Taiwan as its own territory, started two days of drills last Thursday in what it called “punishment” for Lai’s inauguration speech that week. Taiwan condemned the exercises.

China says Lai is a “separatist” and has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control. Lai rejects Beijing’s sovereignty claims, saying only the island’s people can decide their future, and has repeatedly offered talks.


Visiting the east coast air base of Hualien, which is home to Taiwan’s most advanced fighter jets, the F-16Vs, Lai had lunch with some of the pilots who scrambled during the drills.

“I would like to thank all brothers and sisters for sticking to their posts and protecting national security,” he added. “In recent days in response to the Chinese military exercises, everyone did a good job.”

Lai said he received a detailed briefing on the pilots’ response and the abilities of the Taiwan fighters.

“Everyone is on standby in 24-hour shifts to perform air patrol missions,” he added. “With firm determination and excellent combat skills, you are making full use of air combat power and protecting our airspace.”

Soldiers also demonstrated the loading and firing of howitzers for Lai.

Some hangars at the Hualien base are cut out of the side of a mountain to protect them from air attack.

Taiwan has been converting 141 of the Lockheed Martin Corp F-16A/B jets to the F-16V type, and has also ordered 66 of the craft with new avionics, weapons and radar systems to better face down the Chinese air force, including its J-20 stealth fighters.

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

Taiwan’s government says that as the People’s Republic of China has never ruled the island, it has no right to claim it or decide its future.

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