TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwan has submitted an official request to purchase new fighter jets from the United States to “counter current enemy threats,” the island’s deputy defense minister said Thursday.
The request comes as Chinese leader Xi Jinping has used increasingly strident rhetoric toward Taiwan, a self-governed island which split from the mainland during a civil war in 1949. China claims Taiwan as part of its territory and maintains that the two sides must ultimately be reunified.
Xi warned in a January address that he would not rule out the use of force against Taiwanese independence activities. The island’s democratically elected, independence-leaning leader, Tsai Ing-wen, has opposed threats to self-rule.
Taiwanese Deputy Defense Minister Shen Yi-ming, who announced the fighter jet purchase request at a news conference, said the goal is to provide pilots with more sophisticated equipment, in part to “demonstrate our determination and ability to defend ourselves.”
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Huang Wen-chi, the Taiwan defense ministry’s director of strategic planning, said the jets could be anything from F-15s, F-18s and F-16s to cutting-edge F-35 stealth fighters, “as long as it meets our combat needs.”
“We didn’t mention any of these models in our request,” Huang said. “It will depend on what models the U.S. proposes to us, and then we will choose.”
American arms sales to Taiwan have long raised Beijing’s ire. While the U.S. cut formal ties with Taiwan in 1979 in order to forge a relationship with Beijing, the two continue to maintain robust unofficial military and diplomatic ties. Those relations are underpinned by the Taiwan Relations Act, which requires the U.S. to ensure that Taiwan has the ability to defend itself.
In January, Taiwan’s military announced a series of large-scale military drills to defend against a “possible Chinese invasion.”