Taiwan opens F-16 center amid raging US-China tension

Taipei, Aug 28 (efe-epa).- Taiwan on Friday opened an F-16 fighter jet maintenance center amid raging military tensions between the United States and China in the Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea.

President Tsai Ing-wen inaugurated the multi-billion dollar facility at a Taiwan Air Force base in the city of Taichung in central Taiwan.

The center will be jointly managed by the state-run Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC) and US-based Lockheed Martin, the maker of the fighter jets.

Tsai said building up a “solid defense industry is the cornerstone” of guarding regional peace and stability and the national sovereignty of Taiwan.

She said the self-governing island’s robust defense “shows the world our determination to defend our territory (…) instead of bowing and cringing (to China).”

Tsai said the F-16 center would reduce the time to set up the fighters and subsequently strengthen the defense of the island.

Taiwan’s Air Force currently operates 144 F-16As and F-16Bs and is poised to upgrade them into more advanced F-16V. The island nation is scheduled to receive a total of 66 F-16Vs from the US in the future.

The US has vowed to boost government and military contacts with Taiwan, which Beijing claims as part of its territory.

Washington maintains no official diplomatic ties with Taiwan but has been its main international supporter and arms supplier.

China on July 14 threatened to impose sanctions on Lockheed Martin following an announcement regarding a preliminary agreement between the US firm and Taiwan to repair and refine PAC-3 missiles in a $620-million worth deal.

The Chinese army also staged military drills in the Taiwan Strait as a “necessary move responding to the current security situation in the strait … to safeguard national sovereignty.”

The inauguration of the F-16 hub comes at a time of constant friction between the Chinese and US armies following their unending disputes related to trade and technology.

According to the Hong Kong-based daily South China Morning Post, China launched an “anti-aircraft” missile into an area between the southern province of Hainan and the disputed Paracel Islands on Wednesday.

The newspaper said China might have launched the missiles in response to alleged provocative trespassing of an American reconnaissance aircraft into a no-fly zone during live-fire military exercises in the north of the country.

The Chinese army also said on Friday that it had expelled the American destroyer, USS Mustin, from waters near the aforementioned islands.

According to Colonel Li Huamin, spokesman for the Southern Theater of Operations Command, “China sent naval and air forces to track, identify and warn the US warship to leave.”

The spokesman quoted by state-run newspaper Global Times said “the US ignores the rules of international law and continues provocations in the South China Sea, where it exercises its hegemony in the name of freedom of navigation.”

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Brunei claim parts of this strategic sea.

China and the US accuse each other of militarizing the South China Sea region, which facilitates the passage of 30 percent of the world’s trade and is rich in natural resources, housing 12 percent of the global fish catch, in addition to large oil and gas fields. EFE-EPA


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