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Taiwan Air Force F-16 Jet Goes Missing At Start Of Annual Live-Fire Military Drills

A Taiwanese fighter jet went missing in northern Taiwan on Monday at the start of the island’s biggest annual military drills, casting a shadow over exercises meant to showcase the island’s ability to fend off an attack.

The suspected crash comes after Beijing has conducted repeated rounds of military exercises around the island and as authorities on the island try to reassure voters ahead of elections later this year, according to analysts.

Taiwan’s air force said its base in Hualien on the island’s east coast lost contact with the F-16 jet at around 1.43pm after the aircraft had taken part in an exercise further north.

Military sources said the jet was thought to have encountered problems above New Taipei City before all contact was lost over the Keelung Mountains, Central News Agency reported.

The National Rescue Command Centre and the Ministry of Defence had launched a search-and-rescue mission to find the jet and its pilot, Wu Yen-ting, the report said.

Citing military sources, CNA said wreckage from the aircraft may have been found on a hillside in New Taipei City.

Wu ejected from an F-16 with minor injuries when the jet he commanded crashed off the coast of southern Taiwan five years ago.

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Before contact was lost on Monday, Wu’s jet was taking part in Taiwan’s annual Han Kuang live-fire military drills, five days of exercises designed to bolster combat readiness in the event of an attack from across the Taiwan Strait by the People’s Liberation Army.

The Han Kuang exercises include joint air-sea combat operations, anti-landing operations in the north and south of the island, and joint anti-airborne combat operations, according to CNA.

The F-16 was one of 150 bought from the United States to defend the strait.

Cross-strait tensions have risen under Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, with the leader refusing to acknowledge the “1992 consensus” that there is only “one China”.

Beijing says the consensus is the basis of any cross-strait dialogue and has ramped up pressure on the Tsai government with a series of air and naval exercises around the island.

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With Tsai’s domestic approval ratings falling, this week’s military exercises were intended to placate Taiwanese voters ahead of midterm elections in November, analysts said.

Chang Ching, a military specialist from the Taipei-based Society for Strategic Studies think tank, said the annual drills were “show business for domestic consumption”, particularly as support for Tsai dwindled.

Since taking office two years ago, her approval ratings have fallen from 70 per cent to just over 50 per cent from two public opinion polls in late May, according to the Taipei Times.

“President Tsai needs to use the drills to justify her value … to regain popularity and approval ratings, especially given the election campaign in November,” Chang said.

“They won’t use this to send signals to mainland China – just to taxpayers and voters reported by the South China Morning Post and thestar.

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