China’s air force yesterday carried out another round of long-range drills, flying into the Sea of Japan (known as the “East Sea” in South Korea), prompting South Korean jets to scramble, and again around Taiwan amid growing tension over Beijing’s assertiveness in the region.
China has in recent months ramped up its long-range air force drills, particularly around Taiwan.
Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force spokesman Shen Jinke (申進科) said in a statement that fighter and bomber aircraft flew through the Tsushima Strait that separates South Korea from Japan and into international waters in the Sea of Japan, adding that the Sea of Japan is not Japan’s, and the drills were lawful and reasonable.
He described the exercises as routine and pre-planned.
In Seoul, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said that five Chinese military planes were spotted entering the South Korean air defense identification zone, and fighter jets scrambled in response.
The Chinese aircraft also flew through Japan’s air defense identification zone, it added.
“Our fighter planes took normal tactical measures, identifying the models of the Chinese planes and flying aerial surveillance until they left,” the South Korean statement said.
Shen alluded to the scrambled aircraft, saying they “responded to interference from foreign military aircraft,” but were able to achieve the aim of their drill.
There was no immediate reaction from Japan’s government.
Taiwan’s military said that China had staged a separate drill at the same time, flying through the Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the Philippines, and then returning to base through the Miyako Strait, to Taiwan’s north and near Japan’s southern islands.
Taiwan monitored the situation as Japan sent F-15 fighters to intercept, the Ministry of National Defense said in a statement.
After taking leave from a scheduled appearance at the Legislative Yuan in Taipei, Minister of National Defense Feng Shih-kuan (馮世寬) yesterday morning oversaw the nation’s response to the Chinese air patrol by attending an intelligence briefing at the Heng Shan Military Command Center, a facility nestled deep under the mountains surrounding Taipei that serves as the military’s main command and control center in case of an emergency.
Presidential Office spokesman Alex Huang (黃重諺) said Chinese actions, such as its air patrols, are increasing military tensions, and might have a negative and harmful effect on peace and stability throughout the region.
“Such actions are irresponsible and they are not welcomed by the international community,” he said.
The Chinese air force last week conducted “island encirclement patrols” near Taiwan, after a senior Chinese diplomat threatened that China would invade Taiwan if any US warships made port visits there.
China’s air force exercises also come amid regional tensions over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, with bellicose rhetoric from both North Korea and US President Donald Trump.
Additional reporting by CNA
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