Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen on Friday thanked fighter pilots who scrambled against China’s air force during its drills around the island and pledged to keep strengthening the armed forces, as Beijing’s military activities around the island ebbed.
China began the exercises, including simulated precision strikes with bombers and missile forces, on April 8 after Tsai returned from Los Angeles, where she met U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy, infuriating Beijing.
China views democratically governed Taiwan as its own territory, a claim the government in Taipei strongly rejects, and routinely denounces high-level meetings between Taiwanese and foreign leaders and officials.
In the central Taiwanese city of Taichung, Tsai met fighter pilots in who are often stationed at the front-line air base of Magong in the Taiwan Strait, thanking them for their hard work and for sticking to their posts around the clock.
“I want to tell everyone: as long as we are united, we can reassure the country’s people and let the world see our determination to protect the nation,” she said in a video clip provided by the presidential office.
Tsai noted that the Taiwan-made Ching-kuo Indigenous Defence Fighters (IDF), which entered service in 1997, had been upgraded to more advanced versions.
“In the future, we will continue to upgrade software and hardware facilities and strengthen personnel training,” she said.
Tsai’s office showed images of her talking to pilots dressed in flight uniforms and being given a briefing in front of an IDF parked in a hangar.
China’s three days of drills formally ended on Monday, but Taiwan has reported continued activity on a reduced scale.
On Friday morning, Taiwan’s defence ministry said it had not spotted any Chinese military aircraft crossing the sensitive median line of the Taiwan Strait in the past 24 hours.
In its regular morning report on Chinese military activities in the previous 24-hour period, Taiwan’s defence ministry said it had seen four Chinese military aircraft and eight Chinese warships around Taiwan.
But in an accompanying map of China’s activities it did not show any Chinese warplanes crossing the Taiwan Strait’s median line, an unofficial boundary between the two.
China says it does not recognise the median line and has since August, when it staged war games after then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, flown fighter jets regularly across it.
The ministry’s map showed a single Chinese Y-8 anti-submarine aircraft flying between Taiwan’s southwest coast and the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands at the top of the South China Sea.
Taiwan’s government says that although it wants peace and to hold talks with China, it will not bow to pressure, and that Taiwan has a right to engage with the world.
A poll published on Friday by the Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation, which bills itself as non-partisan, found that 61% of respondents approved of the Tsai-McCarthy meeting.