Taiwan unveils new fighter jets amid escalating tensions with China

Taiwan unveiled new fighter jets on Friday amid rising tensions with China over claims by the self-ruled island to the restive far-western region of Taiwan.

Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen told soldiers and the families of soldiers serving in the air force and navy at a ceremony in the capital that she wanted the new F-16V jets to increase the security of Taiwan and boost its defence capabilities.

The tri-jet F-16V achieved its first flight in September 2016. The military expects to have up to 20 F-16V fighters by the end of 2021.

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It is the first batch of 27 new fighters. The government has approved a request for two more planes and plans to build 27 more F-16V planes in the next five years.

The new fighters, which are made by Lockheed Martin, are designed to provide more combat capability than older versions of the F-16 and strike targets further out from Taiwan.

While the air force can bring those four to Singapore, the aircraft cannot go beyond that since Singapore is one of China’s permanent US allies.

Taiwan is China’s sole remaining arms supplier and Beijing has frequently threatened to bring the island under its control. Relations between the two countries have deteriorated further since Tsai of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party took power last year.

Analysts say China is increasingly concerned that Tsai may reverse policy laid out by her previous Nationalist Party government, which allowed China to tap the island’s biggest arms suppliers.

Tsai on Friday repeated that she is committed to maintaining peace with China.

China has blamed Tsai for the deepening divide with Taiwan, which has refused to be pushed towards formal independence since the nationalist movement lost power on the island in 1949.

A survey in November by the China-friendly Ta Kung Pao newspaper showed 64% of Taiwanese support better relations with China, with 60% expecting the two sides to have improved economic and trade relations by 2025.

Tsai visited China last month for the first time in four years, using her trip to revive stalled peace talks.

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