The accident was the third such incident in the last 18 months and comes as the island’s armed forces are having to intercept Chinese aircraft on an almost daily basis. Xi Jinping’s increasingly aggressive tactics to continually probe Taiwan’s defences have sent relations between the two nations deteriorating to their worst for nearly 30 years, experts claim.
The daily incursions also force an outgunned Taiwan to regularly scramble their own jets and keep pilots on a round-the-clock war footing which has taken its toll on their equipment and personnel.
The two F-5E jets disappeared from radar at about 3pm local time (7am GMT) about 1.6 miles off the coast of rural southern Pingtung County, the National Rescue Command Centre said.
It added the fighters, each with one pilot on board, crashed into the sea off the island’s southeastern coast after they apparently collided in midair during a training mission.
One of the pilots was found unconscious in the sea and was later pronounced dead, it said.
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The US-built aircraft date back to the 1960s and are mostly used for training after being retired from the country’s front-line fleet.
Another F-5 crashed last October, killing the pilot. The following month a much more modern F-16 crashed off Taiwan’s east coast, whose pilot also died.
In January last year, Taiwan’s top military official was among eight people killed when a helicopter carrying them to visit soldiers crashed in a mountainous area near the capital Taipei.
While Taiwan’s air force is well trained and equipped, mostly with US-made equipment, it is dwarfed by China’s.
Beijing views the democratic island as its own territory and has never renounced the use of force to bring it under Chinese control.
Under President Xi, China has become markedly more hostile towards Taiwan and last year Chinese jets made a record 380 incursions into its defence zone.
And as tensions mount, Britain risks being drawn into a conflict without any clear strategic benefit for the UK, a historian has argued.
Francis Pike said in an op-ed for the Spectator magazine that war between Taiwan and China is a real possibility.
The author of ‘Hirohito’s War, The Pacific War 1941-1945’ wrote: “War over Taiwan, therefore, is a very realistic prospect.
“And if Britain is set to deploy an expeditionary force — with a Royal Navy aircraft carrier presence in Asia becoming semi-permanent — this carries the extraordinary risk of the UK being embroiled in the next war.
“The big question is why.”
He added: “It makes sense for America, India and Japan to be engaged in exercises around China’s turf: they are all nations with significant Asian interests.
“The UK is not.”