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Taiwan's first advanced F-16V fighter squadron has been deployed

"This represents the steadfast promise of the Taiwan-US partnership," Tsai said.

Taiwans first advanced F-16V fighter squadron has been deployed
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On Thursday, Taiwan commissioned the first squadron of its most modern F-16 fighter, a US-made plane that will bolster the island's defences against Chinese threats.

President Tsai Ing-wen and Sandra Oudkirk, Washington's de facto ambassador to Taiwan, presided over the event at an air base in the southern city of Chiayi.

"This represents the steadfast promise of the Taiwan-US partnership," Tsai said.

"I trust that in holding fast to democratic values, there will definitely be more countries with similar values who will stand with us on this front."

The F-16V is a more advanced and modified variant of Taiwan's older F-16 fighters, which date back to the 1990s. The island also possesses its own indigenous warplane and French-made Mirage planes.

The F-16V is a fourth-generation multi-role fighter with more powerful radar systems, upgraded weapons, navigation, and electronic warfare capabilities.

However, it lags behind fifth-generation fighters such as China's J-20, Russia's Su-57, and the US-built F-22 and F-35 aeroplanes.

Taiwan is currently upgrading 141 older F-16s to the V variant and has placed an order for 66 new F-16Vs.

The first squadron's deployment comes at a time when tensions between Beijing and Washington over Taiwan's fate are at an all-time high.

Beijing claims the 23-million-strong self-governing democracy and has promised to capture the island by force if necessary.

At a news conference, Beijing reacted angrily to the ceremony, with an official saying: "China opposes any official contact between the US and Taiwan".

Zhao Lijian, a spokeswoman for China's foreign ministry, warned the US not to send "wrong signals to separatist forces", noting that pro-Taiwanese groups "have spared no effort to split the motherland and collude with foreign forces".

"Their actions are akin to throwing an egg against a rock," he said.

Under President Xi Jinping, China's sabre-rattling has reached new heights, with Beijing frequently sending record numbers of aeroplanes into Taiwan's air defence zone and state media regularly publicising invasion manoeuvres.

China has built up its military in the previous decade to the point where Taiwanese and US military leaders have publicly expressed concerns that it could soon launch an invasion.

In the case of Taiwan, Washington has given Beijing diplomatic recognition.

However, it opposes any attempt to change Taiwan's status through force, and it is required by Congress to assist Taiwan in maintaining its own defences.

While Donald Trump's government approved the F-16V contract while feuding with China over a variety of topics, his successor Joe Biden has retained similar backing.

In Washington, maintaining Taiwan's defences has become a rare bipartisan concern.

In retaliation, China has denounced weapons shipments to Taiwan and slapped restrictions on US arms companies like Boeing, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin.

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