The People’s Liberation Army Air Force has been “training” high above the western Pacific this week – trespassing not only on Taiwan’s airspace but also skimming over Japan’s air border.
Xinhua reports that a combat group of H-6K strategic bombers flew past the Bashi Channel between the Philippines and Orchid Island of Taiwan, as well as the Miyako Strait between Japan’s Miyako Island and Okinawa, passing well beyond the first of three island chains that surround China.
The battalion of warplanes took off from several airbases in central China’s Shaanxi province in a daily “freedom of navigation” drill that also involved flyovers in the South China Sea, a PLAAF spokesperson said on Thursday.
Within the short span of a week PLA bombers and spy planes such as the H-6K, Y-8, Tu-154, Su-30, among others, crossed Taiwan’s air defense zone no less than three times, Taiwan’s Central News Agency reported, citing confirmation from the island’s defense ministry.
One show of menace occurred on Wednesday when Taiwan Defense Minister Feng Shih-kuan attended a Legislative Yuan inquiry session.
He reportedly had to delay the session to answer phone calls when “more than a dozen” Chinese warplanes appeared on Taiwan’s radars and one of his deputies in charge of intelligence had to rush back to the airforce command to deal with the emergency.
Feng was heard whispering on the phone “Keep calm and avoid any misjudgement”, according to Taiwan papers.
Ilyushin Il-78 aerial refueling tankers were also spotted – the Chinese military was believed to be conducting aerial refueling drills to prepare planes to penetrate the second island chain in the middle portion of the Pacific, formed mainly by the Ogasawara and Volcano Islands of Japan.
More Chinese bombers and fighters will ply the airspace as far as Guam and even Hawaii, at increasing frequency in the near future, as China aims to project its defence capabilities in the Pacific, under the name of “freedom of navigation”, with new, more advanced indigenous jets such as the J-20 fighters and H-20 bombers.
Asia Times reported earlier this month that PLA H-6Ks were spotted above Hawaii. Analysts say if that is true, the bombers must have received aerial refueling midway.