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Chinese bombers, fighter jets and warships drill in first military exercise near Taiwan in months

China's People's Liberation Army Air Force Su-30 jet. (Dmitriy Pichugin/Wikimedia)
December 20, 2018

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry has said that Chinese bombers, fighter jets and warships were spotted near the self-ruled island nation, the first such reported activity in several months.

According to the Defense Ministry, People’s Liberation Army (PLA) aircraft, including H-6 heavy bombers, Y-8 transport aircraft and Sukhoi-30 fighter jets, departed from the PLA’s Huiyang air base in Guangdong Province on Tuesday for a flight over the Bashi Channel, the waterway south of Taiwan, on their way to the Western Pacific Ocean for what Beijing has called “routine” distant-sea exercises. The aircraft later returned to their home base, the ministry said.

It said two Chinese warships were also detected just outside Taiwan’s air defense identification zone off the country’s southeastern coast. The two vessels were believed to be taking part in the same drills as the Chinese aircraft, the ministry added.

It said it had closely monitored the movements of the Chinese aircraft and ships.

In July, China held large-scale, live-fire military drills in an area of the East China Sea “similar in size to the island of Taiwan,” state-run media said in a report at the time headlined “PLA drill in East China Sea ‘tailored for Taiwan separatists.’ ”

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Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for the creation of a top-tier, global military by midcentury. Specifically, in support of his so-called China Dream, which envisions “a strong country with a strong military,” Xi stated that the country’s military modernization will be “basically completed” by 2035. By 2050, Xi has said, the military will have been “fully transformed” into a “world-class force” capable of deterring or defeating potential adversaries and supporting China’s expanding global interests.

Experts say improvements in the capabilities of the Chinese Air Force are an integral part of this initiative.

In 2015 the Chinese Air Force first concentrated on achieving what it said was a major milestone in breaking through the so-called first island chain and flying bombers into the Western Pacific. It then turned its attention to Taiwan the following year, circumnavigating the island and incorporating a variety of aircraft. This increased operational tempo has continued through 2017 and into this year.

China has referred to the “regularized” exercises as “island encirclement patrols.”

The military drills this year have come amid ramped-up tensions between Taiwan and China, which has warned that it will defend — by force if necessary — its “One China” principle under which the self-ruling island is seen as part of China’s own territory, awaiting reunification.

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© 2018 the Japan Times (Tokyo)

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