Proposed transfer of military hardware had been criticised by China amid tensions over Taiwan
Taiwan has deployed some of its most advanced fighter jets in what its government says is to defend itself against the threat from China, which claims sovereignty over the island.
The Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, hailed the official start of the deployment of the F-16V fighters after hosting a photo opportunity in front of one of the planes at an airbase in the southern city of Kaohsiung on Wednesday.
The delivery of the 32 fighter jets comes ahead of a presidential election in Taiwan next year and was approved by parliament in November 2015.
The fighter aircraft are being used to fend off the growing threat of air attacks and possible attacks from Chinese fighters and fighters from the People’s Liberation Army.
The decision to acquire the F-16V planes was opposed by the Democratic Progressive party (DPP), which won the last election in 2012.
The strong backing of China for Taiwan’s recent unification attempt, a close-up of which was captured by a surveillance satellite, has fuelled anger among Taiwanese, furthering a long-running debate about independence.
Wang Chao-hsun, the deputy defence minister, denied Taiwan had fallen back into military dependency on China after reports of an early test flight of the F-16V and the purchase of equipment from Taiwan’s private industry.
“Taiwan is more secure than ever before because we have the ability to protect ourselves. This will enhance Taiwan’s security in accordance with our core interests,” he said.
Early news reports quoting from video footage of the F-16V taking off at the airbase said it was expected to be in full operating capability within 60 days, but the defence ministry on Wednesday said full operations would take another 12 months.
The defence ministry said it took extensive testing to ensure the F-16V was ready for deployment.
It added the warplane was being deployed “to execute a variety of missions and the fighter jet will be mainly used in suppression of enemy air threats”.
China dispatched fighter jets to challenge US warplanes over the South China Sea earlier this month, although those launches were not directly hostile.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command said at the time that the USAF Global Hawk surveillance drone had been deliberately targeted by the Chinese jets, as well as Chinese bombers, for “range deterrence purposes” to “prevent them from entering US national airspace”.
“China has an intensive air warfare training programme for the central and western areas of the country … and has also held regular military drills in the South China Sea,” a spokesman for the China Defence Ministry, Ren Guoqiang, said at a briefing earlier this year.
China and Taiwan have been ruled separately since the end of a civil war on the mainland in 1949. China maintains that it has a centuries-old sovereignty over Taiwan, which it calls a renegade province, and it has in the past tried to persuade Washington to pressure Taipei to return to the “one China” principle.
Separately, the defence ministry said its aircraft had seized a knife and some personal belongings from a “person involved in smuggling”.
The Straits Times newspaper said the woman was travelling in an upper class suite on the flight from Singapore to Taipei and her passport has been checked before entry, even though it was declared missing from the flight’s passenger list.