Tsai praises 'heroic' Taiwan pilots who intercepted Chinese jets

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen visited an air force base and praised on Tuesday the "heroic performance" of air force pilots who have been intercepting Chinese jets that have approached the island.
Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen speaking to the island's air force pilots and engineers during her visit to Makung Air Force Base on Penghu yesterday. The base, home to F-CK-1 Ching-kuo Indigenous Defence Fighters which first entered service in 1997,
Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen speaking to the island's air force pilots and engineers during her visit to Makung Air Force Base on Penghu yesterday. The base, home to F-CK-1 Ching-kuo Indigenous Defence Fighters which first entered service in 1997, is at the front line of Taiwan's response to Chinese jets. PHOTO: REUTERS

PENGHU (Taiwan) • President Tsai Ing-wen has praised the "heroic performance" of Taiwan's air force pilots who have been intercepting Chinese jets that approached the island, as the armed forces held drills to simulate repulsing an attack.

Tensions between China and Taiwan, which Beijing sees as a renegade province to be reunited with the mainland, are at their highest in years. Taiwanese fighter jets were scrambled to intercept the Chinese aircraft last week.

Visiting a major air force base on Penghu in the sensitive Taiwan Strait that divides the two sides, Ms Tsai yesterday told pilots and engineers she was aware of their "heroic performance" when intercepting Chinese military aircraft.

"I have a lot of confidence in you. As soldiers of the Republic of China, how could we let enemies strut around in our own airspace?" she said, using Taiwan's formal name ROC.

"I'm aware that facing the provocative behaviour of the communist planes that have encircled the island and damaged regional peace in recent days, your duty at the front line of the airspace in Penghu must be even heavier."

The base, home to F-CK-1 Ching-kuo Indigenous Defence Fighters (IDFs) which first entered service in 1997, is at the front line of Taiwan's response to Chinese jets.

Senior officer Wang Chia-chu of the "Heavenly Colt" IDF squadron said there are just five minutes to scramble fighters once Chinese military jets are spotted.

"We will defend our airspace in real time as long as there's a threat," he added.

Another senior officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters the Penghu-based IDFs are now scrambling "almost every day" as tensions run high.

The air force also put on display its new Wan Chien air-to-ground cruise missiles that entered service in 2018 and can be fired from IDFs at targets about 200km away, putting Chinese facilities or approaching ships in their sights.

Separately, Defence Minister Yen Teh-fa oversaw drills simulating a response to an air attack, involving all of Taiwan's air bases as well as naval and surface-to-air missile units, the ministry said.

"The enemy threat grows by the day," it cited Mr Yen as saying.

Chinese aircraft last week breached the mid-line of the Taiwan Strait, an unofficial barrier for combat aircraft of both sides, though they have not flown over mainland Taiwan.

On Monday, China's Foreign Ministry said the line did not exist, drawing condemnation from Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu.

In Taipei yesterday, Mr Wu called the line an important "symbol" for avoiding military clashes, adding: "We demand the international community strongly condemns China's words and actions."

China has been angered by rising United States support for Taiwan, including a visit to Taipei last week by US Undersecretary for Economic Affairs Keith Krach.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2020, with the headline 'Tsai praises 'heroic' Taiwan pilots who intercepted Chinese jets'. Subscribe