Joint air force drills kick off

Ready for action: The Chinese air force is sending fighter jets and bombers to Thailand for a joint exercise. — AP

Thailand and China kicked off a joint air force exercise, the kingdom’s military said, the first such drills in years following a pause forced by Covid-19.

Thai Air Chief Marshall Prapas Sornchaidee said “Falcon Strike”, running from Aug 14-25 in the northeast of the country, was meant to “strengthen relations and understanding” with China.

The visiting Chinese contingent will include fighter jets, bombers and airborne early-warning (AEW) planes, the defence ministry in Beijing said last week.

It added that the drills will involve training for “air support, strikes on ground targets, and small- and large-scale troop deployment”.

The Thai-Chinese air force drills were held regularly since 2015 until the pandemic hit.

Thailand has sought to strengthen its defence ties with China, and was among the first countries to buy Chinese naval hardware under a deal finalised in 2017.

In 2020, however, a subsequent US$$724mil (RM3.2bil) deal for two Chinese-made submarines was delayed after a public outcry.

Further wrangling over the vessels’ engines may see the delivery pushed back to 2024, local media reported this month.

The training comes as the US holds combat drills in Indonesia with Indonesia, Australia, Japan and Singapore in the largest iteration of the Super Garuda Shield exercises since they began in 2009.

It also follows China sending warships, missiles and aircraft into the waters and air around Taiwan in a threatening response to a visit by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the self-ruled island, which China claims as its territory.

Kurt Campbell, a top adviser to US President Joe Biden on the Indo-Pacific, said on Friday that the US would take resolute steps to support Taiwan, including sending warships and aircraft through the 160km-wide waterway that separates Taiwan and China.

“We’ll continue to fly, sail and operate where international law allows, consistent with our longstanding commitment to freedom of navigation,” he said in a call with reporters.

“And that includes conducting standard air and maritime transits through the Taiwan Strait in the next few weeks.” — Agencies

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