Chinese party mouthpieces including the Global Times and PLA Daily have again talked up the might of the J-20, the People’s Liberation Army’s fifth-generation stealth fighter.
They warned that the fighter jet designed for supremacy in the air could fly close to Taiwan to fend off “adversaries from near and far” and reclaim and guard the “Chinese island.”
The warning came after the PLA confirmed the combat-ready deployment of the J-20 in the air wing of the force’s Eastern Theatre Command, a military region headquartered in Nanjing tasked with recapturing Taiwan, which Chinese media often describe as a renegade province that must be put back under Beijing’s rule.
The Eastern Theatre Command encompasses Taiwan and the East China Sea. The distance between Nanjing and Taipei is a little more than 800 kilometers and the J-20 could also be based and serviced on a number of strategically-located airbases in Shanghai, Ningbo and along the coastline of southeastern Fujian province.
A white paper on China’s defense policy published last week also contained a salvo of similar threats: secessionists in Taiwan are the PLA’s bete noire, more so than those troublemakers in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet, and the PLA has been ready for a swift takeover of the self-ruled island in the eventuality of a war.
A day after the paper was released, however, a US warship sailed through the Taiwan Strait, amid continuing overflights above strategic areas such as the South China Sea.
Stationing the J-20 close to the frontier facing Taiwan would give more substance to Beijing’s protest against Washington’s upcoming sale of 66 F-16V fighters to beef up Taiwan’s air-defense.
The fourth-generation F-16V is seen as “outmoded” and would hardly stand a chance in a dogfight against the more advanced, highly maneuverable J-20, according to the Chinese media.
Previous reports have hinted that one or two J-20s could have already buzzed vessels in the Taiwan Strait close to a tacit line delineating Chinese and Taiwanese airspace.
Meanwhile, in Taiwan, some observers have lashed out at President Tsai Ing-wen’s “silly” decision to shell out billions of dollars on the F-16s, a deal that not only irked Beijing but also drew the closer deployment of the J-20 and other PLA assets.
But sources close to the island’s defense ministry noted that Taiwan had first opted for the F-35, arguably the most formidable fifth-generation aircraft from Lockheed Martin, a proposal snubbed by the Pentagon.
The ministry insisted that Taiwan would never sit idle and let itself be bludgeoned into “reunification” with China and that its army had the capabilities to defend itself should hostilities break out in the Taiwan Strait.