MND condemns rumors of F-16's 'defection' spread on internet

11/20/2020 03:41 PM
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Defense Minister Yen De-fa. CNA photo Nov. 20
Defense Minister Yen De-fa. CNA photo Nov. 20

Taipei, Nov. 20 (CNA) Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense (MND) on Friday condemned rumors believed to have originated from Chinese netizens alleging that a missing Taiwanese F-16 fighter jet and its pilot defected to China.

The F-16, piloted by Colonel Chiang Cheng-chih (蔣正志), disappeared from radar at 6:07 p.m. on Tuesday, two minutes after taking off from Hualien Air Base in eastern Taiwan, the MND said, and it remained missing as of early Friday afternoon.

Its disappearance came while the plane was over waters just off the coast of Hualien County.

Soon after the incident happened, internet messages from various websites, mostly from China, alleged that the fighter jet and its pilot defected to China and landed at Xiamen airport in the Chinese province of Fujian.

"Extra! An F-16 has landed at Xiamen Airport," one post on Chinese microblogging website Weibo read, with a photograph of an F-16 attached.

"Stop searching now. It is at Xiamen air base," another post on Twitter read.

Taiwan's MND was angered by the tweets, which did not offer any evidence of the claims, and attributed them to the internet army backed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

"The rumors spread by the CCP's internet army were despicable. We have debunked these self-deceiving and narcissistic rumors," Defense Minister Yen De-fa (嚴德發) said in an interview before attending a legislative hearing on Friday.

"Mrs. Chiang also heard the rumors, and she was furious," Yen said, adding that the pilot's wife described her husband as a hero and said she was proud of him.

Spreading rumors only ignites the sense of patriotism and strengthens the will to fight among Taiwanese soldiers, Yen said.

Responding to questions on the same issue, Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) condemned such rumors as "absurd and inhumane."

According to a military source, it would be extremely difficult for a Chinese plane or a Taiwanese plane to defect to the other side due to the very advanced radar systems that exist nowadays.

Taiwan's Air Force would intercept such unplanned movements, and Chinese defenses would react to the incoming unannounced planes, the source said.

In addition, the F-16 took off from eastern Taiwan, which is further away from mainland China, and it was accompanied by other planes during the training mission, the source said.

Meanwhile, on the progress of the search operation for the missing F-16, Yen said the military detected nine sources of signals in the area where the plane may have gone down, and they were given to a salvage ship commissioned by the MND to investigate.

The military believed the signals quite likely originated from parts of the aircraft, and work is underway to confirm that.

The salvage ship completed the initial investigation of seven signal sources on Thursday and should cover the remaining two sources on Friday, Yen said.

After that, experts will convene to analyze the collected signals to confirm which ones, if any, are from the plane before starting an underwater search, he said.

(By Emerson Lim and Wang Yang-yu)

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