Chinese air force patrols over South China Sea ‘show PLA’s capacity to breach cold war line of containment’
Latest training exercise over disputed waters sees jets flying through ‘First Island Chain’
A team of Chinese air force bombers has carried out a series of patrols over the disputed South China Sea, in an exercise the People’s Liberation Army said showed its capability to breach the cold war era line of containment.
The air force said on Thursday that the exercises involved H-6K bombers flying over the Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the Philippines and the Miyako Strait near the Japanese island of Okinawa in a series of training exercises.
PLA air force spokesman Shen Jinke told China Central Television that the air patrol aimed to show that Chinese jets had the capability to break the “First Island Chain”, a line stretching from Japan and Taiwan which Beijing says has been used by the United States to contain it since the cold war.
Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie said the drill indicated the PLA had been able to deploy different aviation teams from different military regions.
“The PLA is stepping up joint operation combat training as President Xi Jinping ordered them to be combat-ready all the time,” Li said.
“The air patrol also aimed at showing the PLA air force is ready to join with the navy in the high seas for all kinds of missions.”
The Island Chain concept was first mentioned by John Foster Dulles, the US statesman and diplomat, in 1951 during the Korean War as a way of containing Communist countries allied to the Soviet Union.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, China worried that the chain would be used against it.
Recent drills conducted by China’s navy and air force have been used to display the PLA’s ability to gain supremacy in both sea and air around the First Island Chain.
Three American aircraft carriers – the USS Ronald Reagan, the USS Mimitz and USS Theodore Roosevelt – are currently operating in the area and recently carried out training exercises with the Japanese navy further to the north in the wake of North Korea’s recent missile tests.
On Wednesday, the US Navy said a C2-A aircraft with 11 passengers and crew had crashed into the Philippine Sea on its return to the USS Ronald Reagan. Eight have since been rescued but three are still missing.
Shen did not detail how many aircraft were taking part in the drill.
He said the one-day air patrol was aimed at strengthening China’s combat capability in the high seas.
The PLA air force started regular high seas training in 2015.
Late last month, China also sent its H-6K to fly near the US territory of Guam, a US military news portal reported. Military analysts said the patrol was part of a deterrence strategy aimed at the US.
In July, 10 PLA aircraft also passed through the same strategic channels that the air force crossed in the latest drill before flying to the Western Pacific for drills.
Two H-6K bombers deliberately crossed Taiwan’s Air Defence Identification Zone on the island’s east side, causing Taipei to scramble two of its jets to follow them.
China has become increasingly assertive in the South China Sea, where Taiwan and a number of Southeast Asian nations have competing claims.
The mainland authorities regard Taiwan as a breakaway province and have failed to rule out the use of force if the island ever declares independence.