China’s air force has carried out its first-ever military drill over the western Pacific Ocean, state media said yesterday, highlighting Beijing’s growing military reach.
Several aircraft from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on Monday flew over the ocean via the Bashi Channel, which runs between Taiwan and the Philippines, Xinhua news agency said.
“This is the first time that the PLA Air Force conducted such drills in an airspace far offshore from Chinese coastlines,” Xinhua cited PLA Air Force spokesman Colonel Shen Jinke (申進科) as saying.
The drill aimed to “level up the PLA Air Force’s mobility and combativeness” over the “high seas,” Xinhua reported.
Territorial tensions have increased in recent years between Beijing and its neighbors around the South China Sea — which it claims almost in its entirety.
Beijing has also been building up its military reach in recent years, with its first aircraft carrier going into service in 2012.
China announced an “air defense identification zone” over the East China Sea in 2013, sparking condemnation from Taiwan, Japan and the US.
China is considering a similar zone over the South China Sea.
China has increased its military budget by double-digit percentages for several decades and several Southeast Asian nations, as well as Japan, have boosted their defense budgets and ties with the US, in moves widely seen as reflecting fears about China.
The Bashi Channel (巴士海峽) is a waterway between Orchid Island (Lanyu, 蘭嶼) and the Philippines’ northernmost province of Batanes.
“The drill is not targeted at any certain country or targets, and carries no threat against other countries and regions,” Xinhua cited Shen as saying.
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