China threat: Fighter jet crash shows Taiwan is being worn down by Beijing, says expert

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Derek Grossman, a defence analyst with the RAND corporation, was speaking after the pilot of an ageing F-5 fighter jet was killed during a training flight last week. And he cited Japan as an example of a nation struggling to cope in the face of relentless Chinese aerial activities close to a disputed island in the East China Sea referred to Senkaku by Japan and Diaoyu in China.

The tragedy came barely a month after Taiwan’s President, Tsai Ing-wen, paid tribute to the bravery and dedication of its armed forces during a visit to a maintenance base for fighter jet engines.

China, which regards Taiwan as part of its territory in accordance with its One China policy, has turned up the heat in recent months, notably last month when it launched a series of military drills in which at least 19 of its aircraft crossed the so-called median line which bisects the Taiwan Strait.

As a result, Taiwan’s air force is under almost constant pressure as it bids to monitor the nominal maritime border.

Taiwan certainly does not want to be forced to follow in Japan’s footsteps when it comes to dealing with the real consequences of sustained Chinese military pressure

Derek Grossman

Mr Grossman told it was definitely an issue which the United States was tracking closely as far as Taiwan was concerned.

He said: “Taiwan certainly does not want to be forced to follow in Japan’s footsteps when it comes to dealing with the real consequences of sustained Chinese military pressure.”

He explained: “In the case of the JASDF’s intercept operations against Chinese military flights in the vicinity of the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute and near Japan, the service is undergoing enormous stress in terms of both pilot fatigue and wearing out of military equipment that degrades capabilities for combat.”

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The tragic accident has prompted Taiwan to phase out all 46 of its F-5s.

They will be replaced in 2024 by Yung Yin advanced trainer jets, to be built by Taiwan’s Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC)

In addition the air force will also begin to phase out its single-seat F-5Es and F-5Fs, which have two seats, from early 2024.

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Taiwan is in the process of revamping its fighter line-up.

The United States last year approved an $8 billion sale of F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan, a deal which would bring the island’s total to more than 200 – the largest F-16 fleet in Asia.

Speaking in September, Taiwanese politician Su Tseng-chang, who as Premier is roughly equivalent to a Prime Minister, voiced concern about the cost of the tensions with China.

He said: “Each time the communist aircraft harass Taiwan, our air force takes to the skies, and it is extremely costly. This isn’t only a burden for Taiwan, but quite a big one for China too.”

A Taiwan-based diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, added: “China is trying to wear out Taiwan’s pilots by keeping them constantly on edge.”

Speaking at Zuoying naval base after a visit to Gangshan air base, also in September, Tsai told maintenance workers: “If there was no backup or help from you all, the military’s steadfast combat strength would be greatly reduced.”

Taiwan is effectively autonomous from mainland China, but has never formally declared independence.

The issue is a highly sensitive one, and Beijing has been angered by the visit to the island of two senior US officials, health supremo Alex Azar and Keith Krach, Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment.

Speaking last month, Ketian Zhang, an Assistant Professor at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government, told said: “I would say the tension surrounding Taiwan has worsened since Trump took office, and the worsening of cross-strait relations is a gradual process.

“China does have a red line, which is that Taiwan should not declare de jure independence.

“If it does so, it is highly likely that China will resort to the use of force.”

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