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U.S.' new arms sales will boost Taiwan combat capabilities: Tsai

2019/04/17 18:56:54

President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文, center) / Photo courtesy of the Presidential Office

Taipei, April 17 (CNA) An approved arms sale of US$500 million by Washington to Taipei will strengthen Taiwan's overall military capabilities, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said Wednesday during a visit to Magong Air Base in Penghu.

Under the new package, the training of Taiwan Air Force pilots and maintenance crews will continue at Luke Air Force Base in the U.S., which will allow them to bring back knowledge to the armed services, thus strengthening Taiwan's military, Tsai said.

According to a statement issued by the U.S. Department of Defense Security Cooperation Agency on Monday, the State Department has approved a possible deal with Taiwan for the continuation of a pilot training program and maintenance/logistics support for F-16 aircraft at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, at an estimated cost of US$500 million.

A security specialist told CNA that the U.S.' announcement of the sales package was different than in the past, as for the first time, the U.S. openly mentioned its training of Taiwanese pilots, which implied military cooperation between Taipei and Washington.

Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense on Wednesday posted a video on its Facebook page, showing Taiwanese F-16 pilots in training at Luke Air Force Base in 1997, which was regarded as a highly sensitive operation at that time.

Meanwhile, during Tsai's visit to Penghu, which lies between Taiwan and Mainland China, she thanked a special Air Force unit there for protecting Taiwan's airspace amid frequent actions by Beijing, which she said were disruptive of peace and stability in the region.

On March 31, two J-11 fighter planes from the People's Liberation Army of China crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait, prompting Taiwan to scramble several fighter jets to protect its airspace, but the incident did not develop into a conflict.

Tsai, who has announced her bid for reelection in 2020, said one of her priorities is to upgrade Taiwan's defense capabilities and the training of its military personnel.

At a groundbreaking ceremony at a Fishermen's Association in Tainan after her Penghu visit, she said China's frequent military actions were a threat to peace in the region and she promised to fully support the Armed Forces throughout her presidency.

(By Yeh Su-ping, Yang Sz-ruei, Matt Yu and Emerson Lim)
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