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Safety the reason for F-18 landing in Taiwan: U.S. military

2015/04/03 13:22:53

Friday, Tainan.

Washington, April 3 (CNA) A U.S. military spokesman said Thursday that the reason for landing two F-18 fighters in Taiwan was based on proximity and weather conditions, downplaying speculation that the landing was a "political message to China."

"The reason for selecting Taiwan as a landing site was based on proximity and weather conducive to landing," said Maj. Paul L. Greenberg, a public affairs officer for the U.S. Marine Corps. He stressed that safety is always a top priority in a flight operation.

"Our pilots have the responsibility for diverting their aircraft to the nearest approved airfield if they experience an in-flight condition which they deem unsafe," he said. "This is done in order to protect the pilots, crew and the aircraft."

His remarks came in response to an April 1 report in the Washington Times that said the emergency landing of the two U.S. Marine Corps F-18 fighters in Taiwan "appears to have been a political message from the Pentagon to Beijing following a recent Chinese bomber drill near the island nation that is a key rival to Beijing's rule."

In the report, military analyst Rick Fisher was quoted as saying that the aircraft could have made a landing at a less-controversial location such as the Japanese airfield at Shimoji island, which is 120 miles east of Taiwan.

The landing for the two F-18s at an air base in Taiwan, "while perhaps unintended, does give China a significant signal of U.S. resolve, two days after China used its new H-6K nuclear cruise missile bomber in exercises intended to signal a threat to U.S. forces on Guam," said Fisher, a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center.

Another analyst Michael Swaine, however, held a different view. It was unlikely that a political message was involved in the incident, he said.

The Pentagon is a professional military agency and when an aircraft encounters a mechanical problem, the safety of the crew and the aircraft is the top concern for choosing a landing location, said Swaine, a senior associate at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a specialist in U.S.-China relations and East Asian international relations.

The F-18s landed at Tainan Air Force Base on Wednesday due to "a persistent engine oil pressure warning light" in one of the aircraft, said Greenberg. The other fighter landed in order to maintain section integrity, he added.

The F-18s, which were from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 323 (VMFA-323), were en route to Singapore to participate in Commando Sling, which is an air-to-air exercise with Singapore, after taking off from Japan, according to Greenberg.

One day after the emergency landing, American personnel arrived in Taiwan Thursday evening on board a C-130 to repair the mechanical problem on the F-18 fighter.

The F-18s will depart Taiwan as soon as the repairs are completed and the aircraft passes the necessary safety tests, a Taiwanese Air Force official said.

The landing was a rarity because the United States does not have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, and its military aircraft do not use air bases in Taiwan.

China views democratic Taiwan with its 23 million people as a renegade province, to be taken by force if necessary, and objects any military interaction between the island and the United States.

(By Tony Liao, Rita Cheng and Elaine Hou)

U.S. F-18 fighters depart Taiwan after repairs completed