Taiwan president praises ‘heroic’ pilots who intercepted PLA jets
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen in late September 2020 praised the “heroic performance” of Air Force pilots who intercepted People’s Liberation Army (PLA) jets that approached the island, as Taiwan Armed Forces held drills to simulate repulsing an attack.
Tension between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the democratic island that the Chinese Communist Party claims as sovereign territory have spiked to their highest in years, with Taiwan’s fighter jets recently scrambling to intercept PLA aircraft.
Visiting an Air Force base on Penghu in the sensitive Taiwan Strait that divides the two sides, Tsai told pilots and engineers that she was aware of their heroics.
“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?” said Tsai, pictured, using Taiwan’s formal name. “I’m aware that facing the provocative behavior 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 (IDF) that entered service in 1997, is at the forefront of Taiwan’s response to PLA intrusions.
Wang Chia-chu, a senior officer in the “Heavenly Colt” IDF squadron, told Reuters that fighter crews have just five minutes to scramble if PLA aircraft are spotted.
“We will defend our airspace in real time as long as there’s a threat,” Wang said.
The Air Force also displayed its Wan Chien air-to-ground cruise missiles that entered service in 2018 and can be fired from IDFs at targets about 200 kilometers away, putting Chinese facilities or approaching ships in their sights.
Separately, Taiwan Defence Minister Yen Teh-fa oversaw drills simulating a response to an air attack, involving all 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 Yen as saying. “On no account allow the enemy to step out of line, and defend the country’s sovereignty, democracy and freedom.”
Taiwan has scrambled fighter jets many times in 2020 to intercept PLA aircraft, which recently breached the midline of the Taiwan Strait, an unofficial barrier for combat aircraft of both sides, though they have not flown over mainland Taiwan.
China’s foreign ministry said the line does not exist, drawing condemnation from Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu, who called the line an important “symbol” for avoiding military clashes.
“We demand the international community strongly condemns China’s words and actions and demand the Chinese government stops everything that it has been doing,” he added.
The PRC has been angered by U.S. support for Taiwan, including a September 2020 visit to Taipei by U.S. Undersecretary for Economic Affairs Keith Krach.