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Russian, Chinese nuclear bombers flew off coast of Japan, South Korea

H-6K in flight (Wikimedia Commons)
November 22, 2021

Russian and Chinese strategic bombers flew together in a joint aerial patrol on Friday that passed near Japan and South Korea and prompted South Korea to scramble fighter jets in response.

China’s Ministry of Defense announced the joint military flight on Friday, which included two nuclear-capable Chinese H-6K bombers two nuclear-capable Russian Tu-95MC bombers. According to China’s Ministry of Defense, the joint military patrol flew in “related airspace” over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea.

The bomber flight took place on the same day that two Russian Tu-95 bombers flew over the Chukchi and Bering Seas to the north and west of Alaska. It is unclear if the Russian bombers involved in those bombers also participated in the later joint bomber patrol near Japan and North Korea with China.

China’s Ministry of Defense said the joint military patrol “strictly abided by the relevant provisions of international law and did not enter the airspace of other countries.”

While China claimed the joint patrol did not violate any international laws, the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said the Chinese and Russian bombers did violate the Korean Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), crossing into the northeast end of the identification zone, Reuters reported. South Korea’s JCS said it scrambled fighter jets to respond to the joint bomber patrol.

The joint Russian and Chinese flight also stirred concerns from Japan. Janes reported Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi also lodged a complaint with Russia and China over the flights.

“We informed Russia and China via diplomatic channels about our concerns about similar actions from the viewpoint of the regional security,” Hayashi said.

China’s state-run Global Times characterized Friday’s joint Chinese and Russian bomber patrol as one to safeguard strategic stability against provocative western actions.

This joint bomber patrol is not the first time Russian and Chinese forces have joined together for an aerial patrol. In December 2020, Russia released footage of a joint aerial patrol, in which two Russian Tu-95 strategic bombers and four Chinese H-6K bombers flew near Japan and South Korea.

Last month, 10 warships from Russia’s Navy and China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) held their first-ever joint naval patrol in the western Pacific. During that patrol, the Russian and Chinese warships sailed through the Tsugaru Strait, which separates the main Japanese island of Honshu from the northern island of Hokkaido. The Tsugaru Strait is considered international waters but is still part of Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

Japan’s Ministry of Defense described the joint drills by Russia and China as “unusual.”

Drew Thompson, a former U.S. Defense Department official, told CNN the drills “will reinforce the conclusion that Japan has already drawn that China potentially presents a threat to Japan and therefore it has to increase its own defense spending and readiness to deal with it.”