The self-proclaimed government in Chinese Taipei has commissioned into service the most advanced version of F-16 fighter jets in an attempt to boost its military capabilities amid rising tensions with China.
Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen unveiled the first squadron of F-16V fighter jets, which were upgraded with the help of the United States, at a ceremony at an air base in the southern city of Chiayi on Thursday.
Tsai lauded military cooperation with the United States, adding that the project showed the firm partnership between the self-governed island and Washington.
"I believe that as long as we adhere to the values of democracy and freedom, there will be more like-minded countries standing on the same front with us," she said.
Sandra Oudkirk, the director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), the US's de facto embassy in Taipei, was present at the ceremony as well.
At the air base, the F-16s carried out combat take offs and landings and flights in formation above the runway.
Tsai said as more F-16Vs entered service, Taipei would be "even stronger."
The US$5.4-billion F-16 upgrade is led by manufacturer Lockheed Martin Corp and Taiwan's Aerospace Industrial Development Corp (AIDC).
Taipei has been converting 141 F-16A/B jets into the F-16V type. Sixty four aircraft have already been upgraded. It has additionally ordered 66 new F-16Vs, which have new avionics, weapons, and radar systems to better face down the Chinese air force, including its J-20 stealth fighters.
The F-16Vs can carry Raytheon Technologies Corp's advanced AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missiles.
The latest development comes as tensions between Chinese Taipei, China, and the US have been at their highest in decades.
China has been flying fighter jets close to Taipei while the US has reportedly had troops deployed in the territory for the past year.
The US has said it is committed to assisting Taipei to defend itself in the face of a potential Chinese attack, in a move that Beijing views as blatant interference in its internal affairs.
China has sovereignty over Chinese Taipei, and under the "One China" policy, almost all world countries recognize that sovereignty. The US, too, recognizes Chinese sovereignty over the island but has long courted Taipei in an attempt to unnerve Beijing.
The United States, which backs Taipei's secessionist president, also continues to sell weapons to the island in defiance of Beijing and in violation of its own official policy.
China has repeatedly called on the US to strictly abide by the "One China" principle when handling issues related to Taipei, warning that Beijing has no room for compromise on issues involving its core interests, including its territorial integrity. It has also cautioned the US against sending wrong signals in any form to the secessionist forces in Taipei.
Taipei signed a 62-billion-dollar deal to purchase F-16 fighter jets from the United States in 2020. Under the deal, the US agreed to sell 90 F-16 fighter jets to Taipei over a span of about 10 years.
China has announced sanctions on Lockheed Martin for selling arms to Taipei.