China drills are 'non-partisan'
The current Thai-Chinese joint air force exercises have been two years in the making and have nothing to do with the ongoing tension between China and Taiwan, the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) insisted on Tuesday.
Codenamed Falcon Strike 2022, the 12-day drill is being held in the northeastern province of Udon Thani until next Thursday.
"It's a totally different thing. The current exercise didn't simply spring up out of nowhere. This is the fifth of its kind and it was planned two years ago," RTAF spokesman VM Prapas Sonjaidee said on Tuesday.
He was responding to reporters' questions regarding the timing of the military drills amid heightened tensions between China and Taiwan.
The Chinese forces participating in the drill and sharing experience and knowledge with their Thai counterparts were all from Kunming, he said.
Still, no specific security situation or conflict is being simulated during training as the drill is geared more towards familiarising Thai and Chinese air forces with each other's operational procedures, he said.
"Both sides have also taken this opportunity to strengthen their relationship, cultural ties and foster improved communication and consultation," he said.
The air force spokesman dismissed concerns raised over whether the drills with China would impact the RTAF's bid to buy F-35 fighter jets from the US, saying this is also a different matter.
Each unit of military hardware purchased from the US comes with a clear contract outlining which countries the US allows it to be used with when it comes to joint air exercises, he said.
China has deployed six J-10C/S fighter jets, a JH-7AI bomber and a Shaanxi KJ-500 airborne early warning and control aircraft for the exercises, a source said, adding Su-27 fighter jets will not be involved in the drills.
Meanwhile, the RTAF has deployed five Gripen combat aircraft, three Alphajet attack aircraft and a SAAB 340 AEW early warning and control aircraft.