Taiwan President Thanks Pilots Who Scrambled Against China Drills

HUALIEN – Taiwan President Lai Ching-te expressed his gratitude to fighter pilots who responded to Chinese military drills last week during a visit to a frontline air base on May 28. The drills, which China described as “punishment” for Lai’s recent inauguration speech, took place on May 23 and 24, drawing condemnation from Taiwan.

China claims Taiwan as its own territory and has labeled Lai a “separatist,” maintaining that it has not ruled out the use of force to bring the island under its control. Lai, however, has consistently rejected Beijing’s sovereignty claims, asserting that only the people of Taiwan can decide their future. He has also reiterated his willingness to engage in talks with China.

During his visit to the east coast air base in Hualien, home to Taiwan’s most advanced fighter jets, the F-16Vs, Lai had lunch with some of the pilots who scrambled during the Chinese drills.

“I would like to thank all brothers and sisters for sticking to their posts and protecting national security,” Lai said. “In recent days, in response to the Chinese military exercises, everyone did a good job.”

Lai received a detailed briefing on the pilots’ response and the capabilities of Taiwan’s fighters. “Everyone is on standby in 24-hour shifts to perform air patrol missions,” he added. “With firm determination and excellent combat skills, you are making full use of air combat power and protecting our airspace.”

The visit also included a demonstration of soldiers loading and firing howitzers. The Hualien base features hangars carved into the side of a mountain to protect aircraft from potential air attacks.

Taiwan has been upgrading 141 of its Lockheed Martin Corp F-16A/B jets to the F-16V type and has ordered 66 additional F-16Vs equipped with advanced avionics, weapons, and radar systems to better counter the Chinese air force, including its J-20 stealth fighters. The F-16Vs are also capable of carrying Raytheon Technologies Corp’s advanced AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missiles.

Taiwan’s government maintains that since the People’s Republic of China has never ruled the island, it has no right to claim it or decide its future.