New Delhi: Amid escalating tension with China, Taiwan has formally signed an agreement with US arms firm Lockheed Martin to buy 66 F-16V fighter jets. This comes just two days after Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) announced large-scale drills in response to US provocations and Taiwan secessionist activities.
The F-16 jets have been built by Lockheed Martin Corp. The sale announced on Friday was first floated in 2019 and will reportedly be completed by the end of 2026. As part of the announcement, 90 jets will be sold to Taiwan.
According to The Hill, the purchase marks the first time since 1992 that advanced fighter jets have been sold to the island and is likely to spark reproach from China, which has repeatedly warned against selling advanced weaponry to an island it considers its own territory.
Last year, China’s Foreign Ministry urged Washington not to sell fighter jets to Taiwan and also stop arms sales and military contract with Taiwan. Beijing also threatened Washington of possible retaliation.
Taiwan unveils record defence budget
Further raising the stakes in confrontation with China, Taiwan announced a whopping 10% increase in its defence budget to USD 15.4 billion next year coincided with a call by Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen to reinforce security ties with the United States, South China Morning Post reported.
During a virtual address to Washington-based Hudson Institute on Wednesday, Tsai said that strengthening the island’s military defences, including seeking a “constructive security relationship” with the US is her top priority.
“Our 23 million people have the right to determine our own futures, which is [the] antithesis to the position Beijing has taken,” she said.
“Upholding these principles requires us to be able to defend Taiwan against coercive actions. It entails backing up words with actions,” she added.
This comes amid China signalling that there will be no compromise in its sovereignty claim over the island.
Senior Colonel Zhang Chunhui, a spokesman of the Eastern Theatre Command of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), said the mainland military staged a series of drills in the Taiwan Strait to send a “serious warning” to supporters of independence for the self-ruled island.
For decades, the Chinese government has claimed authority over Taiwan. Though Taiwan is not recognised by the UN, its government maintains a relationship with the US and does not accept the Chinese authority.
The tension between the Taipei and Beijing have escalated. On Monday, Beijing had deployed fighter jets that briefly crossed the midline of the Taiwan Strait in a move to show its objection against US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar Taiwan’s visit.
According to the report, Taiwan’s defence ministry said it had tracked the PLA fighters with its land-based anti-aircraft missiles and had “strongly driven them out”.
Last month, Taiwan commenced a five day long live-fire war games exercise putting its defences to the test against a Beijing invasion
Lately, there has been a marked increase in military operations around the island’s territorial waters.