Beijing again flexes military muscle, sending fighter jets, bombers around Taiwan
Island’s air force says it deployed F-16s to monitor latest military manoeuvres
Beijing on Friday conducted encirclement drills around Taiwan with its new Su-35 fighter jets as it again flexed its military muscle amid tensions with the self-ruled island.
The “innovative joint operation” involved two theatre commands and the aircraft flew in opposite directions around the island, PLA air force spokesman Senior Colonel Shen Jinke said.
The Sukhoi Su-35 fighters flew with H-6K strategic bombers across the Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the northern islands of the Philippines, Shen said at an airport in southern China.
Other bombers, along with J-11 fighters and KJ-200 early warning aircraft, flew over the Miyako Strait between Taiwan and Japan, he said.
They then flew over the east coast of Taiwan to the western Pacific for exercises that involved early warning systems, detection and assaults, according to Shen.
“Our squadron for these Western Pacific and Taiwan missions will involve more and more new types of aircraft,” the air force spokesman said.
Taiwan’s air force command headquarters said it had deployed F-16 fighter jets to monitor the mainland’s military activities and that the island was fully aware of the drills and would take measures to protect the safety of its people.
The PLA air force said it was the first time the Su-35 fighter jets had flown over the Bashi Channel since they entered service in April.
China has ordered 24 of the Russian-made fighter jets – an upgrade to the Su-27 – and had taken delivery of 14 by the end of last year. They can be equipped with long-range air-to-air missiles that could be used to attack American aerial refuelling tankers in the Pacific.
Friday’s air force drills were the latest in a series of People’s Liberation Army operations targeting the island, including a live-fire exercise in the Taiwan Strait last month, following pro-Taiwan gestures from the US as the trade row between Beijing and Washington escalates.
There have also been regular strategic bomber flights close the island in recent months, as some Taiwanese leaders showed a more pro-independence stance. Beijing sees self-ruled Taiwan as a wayward province to be brought under mainland Chinese rule, by force if necessary.
The PLA air force indicated the military manoeuvres near the island would continue.
“We will follow an existing plan and continue to hold multi-aircraft patrols over Taiwan,” Shen said.
It was not known whether China’s most advanced stealth fighter, the home-grown J-20, was part of the Taiwan mission. But on Wednesday the air force said the stealth fighter had conducted sea training for the first time, without saying where or when it took place.
Beijing is also annoyed by Washington’s growing support for Taiwan. The latest example came on Thursday, when the island held the first Taiwan-US Defence Business Forum.
Co-hosted by the US-Taiwan Business Council and the Taiwan Defence Industry Development Association, the forum brought together companies from Taiwan and the US to discuss opportunities for bilateral cooperation in the defence industry, including shipbuilding, cybersecurity and aerospace industries. International weapons systems suppliers such as Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Cubic and BAE Systems attended the forum.
In his opening remarks, Rupert Hammond-Chambers, president of the business council, said Taiwan already had strong experience in the global technology supply chain, so “there is no reason that Taiwan should not enjoy considerable success” in the global defence supply chain.
Additional reporting by Kyodo