Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen promised on Friday to defend the island with a “solid” air force as she launched a maintenance centre backed by the United States for the island’s fleet of upgraded F-16 fighters amid rising tensions with Beijing.
Frequent Chinese and US military exercises in the region have increased fears of a conflict touched off by a crisis over Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own territory.
“It takes solid defence capability, not bowing and cringing, to defend the sovereignty of the Republic of China and maintain regional peace and stability,” Tsai told a ceremony unveiling the island’s first maintenance hub in the central city of Taichung for its most advanced F-16s.
The Republic of China is Taiwan’s official name.
Tsai said the hub marks a milestone in her years-long drive to build up Taiwan’s defence industry.
“The time needed for jet maintenance will be greatly shortened and availability will be boosted significantly, ensuring the Air Force’s combat power at the front line,” she said.
Tsai has complained of increased Chinese military drills and on Thursday warned of the risk of accidental conflict.
The hub, led by US weapons maker Lockheed Martin Corp and Taiwan’s Aerospace Industrial Development Corp (AIDC), is the latest example of military cooperation between Washington and Taipei.
The US last year approved an $8bn sale of F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan, a deal that would increase the size of the island’s F-16 fleet to more than 200 jets, the largest in Asia.
AIDC’s president, Ma Wan-june, said the hub would service jets for Taiwan’s air force and that the company plans to expand it as a maintenance hub for F-16s in the region. He declined to elaborate.
The US has no official diplomatic ties with Taiwan but is the island’s main international backer and arms supplier.
China said last month it would sanction Lockheed Martin for involvement in arms sales to Taiwan.