China-US tensions: Taiwan’s new F-16 service centre is ‘a sign of more open security ties’

China-US tensions: Taiwan’s new F-16 service centre is ‘a sign of more open security ties’

  • Links between the US and the island used to be hush-hush but collaboration on jet maintenance facility points to Washington’s desire to normalise military ties with Taipei, observers say
  • Beijing sees Taiwan as the most important and sensitive issue in Sino-US relations, says analyst

The launch of a joint F-16 fighter jet maintenance centre in Taiwan is a step towards Taipei and Washington making their security cooperation more open, in defiance of Beijing, Taiwan military sources and observers said.

The facility, a joint project between Taiwan’s Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC) and Lockheed Martin in Shalu, central Taiwan, opened on Friday, becoming the first F-16 service centre in the Indo-Pacific region.

More importantly, observers said, it represented the US’ growing desire to normalise military ties with Taiwan as tensions rose with Beijing on a range of fronts, from trade to technology.

Washington, which switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, once did all it could to play down its military exchanges with Taipei to avoid infuriating Beijing.

Indigenous Defence Fighter aircraft fly in formation during the inauguration ceremony of a maintenance centre for F-16 fighter jets Taiwan on August 28, 2020. Photo: ReutersThe launch of a joint F-16 fighter jet maintenance centre in Taiwan is a step towards Taipei and Washington making their security cooperation more open, in defiance of Beijing, Taiwan military sources and observers said.

The facility, a joint project between Taiwan’s Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC) and Lockheed Martin in Shalu, central Taiwan, opened on Friday, becoming the first F-16 service centre in the Indo-Pacific region.More importantly, observers said, it represented the US’ growing desire to normalise military ties with Taiwan as tensions rose with Beijing on a range of fronts, from trade to technology.

Washington, which switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, once did all it could to play down its military exchanges with Taipei to avoid infuriating Beijing.

Beijing, which considers Taiwan a wayward province that must be returned to the mainland fold by force if necessary, has suspended official exchanges with Taiwan, staged war games close to the island and poached seven of the island’s allies since Tsai Ing-wen, of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, was elected president in 2016 and refused to accept the one-China principle.

Before US President Donald Trump took office in 2017, many of Washington’s exchanges with Taipei had been conducted under the table because of concerns about Beijing’s response, a security source said on Friday.

“Things like pre-arms sales talks, including signing of letters of intent and exchanges of military officials, used to be hush-hush unless the Americans said ‘yes’ as actions like these were all considered highly sensitive,” the source said.