In the latest warning to its regional adversaries to stay away, China conducted military drills over – and on – contested islands in the South China Sea, as the People’s Liberation Army air force for the first time landed several strategic bombers on the island and reefs, some man-made, in the region and this time China’s preparation for a revolution (and war) was televised.
According to the Chinese military’s website, multiple bombers took off from a base in southern China and hit a training target before practicing take-off and landing at an airfield built on an unidentified island in the disputed South China Sea.
In a statement, the Chinese Air Force said that “a division of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) recently organized multiple bombers such as the H-6K to conduct take-off and landing training on islands and reefs in the South China Sea in order to improve our ability to ‘reach all territory, conduct strikes at any time and strike in all directions.”
A pilot involved in the drills told Reuters that the maneuvers were meant to advance military training to “new era,” and prepare China’s air force for a defense of the region, suggesting that a South China Sea war is an outcome Beijing is increasingly preparing for. And in case the message was lost, the pilot described the exercise as preparation for “the west Pacific and the battle for the South China Sea.”
The drills involved Xian H-6 strategic bombers, developed on the basis of the Soviet Tupolev Tu-16 aircraft. The reef from where they took off is being used as a relay node that will vastly increasing the range and ability of Chinese strategic aircraft to strike targets far from the South China Sea, and allowing them to police large swaths of the Pacific. The bombers can be refueled and rearmed on the island, per RT.
What made this particular drill unique is that footage of the bombers landing and taking off from the reef was released by Chinese state television, in what was meat to server as a clear warning to potential aggressors: “China is ready to protect its territory“.
The Pentagon criticized the bombing exercises and China’s “continued militarization of disputed features” in the region that only “serves to raise tensions and destabilize it.”
The drills took place shortly after China started sea trials of its first domestically-built aircraft carrier: A 77,000-ton Type 001A vessel, which was built to accommodate the air force’s Shenyang J-15 fighter jets. It’s expected to join the country’s navy by the end of the year.
Admiral Philip Davidson, Trump’s pick to lead the US Pacific Command, has repeatedly warned about China’s growing military presence in the South China Sea. In an unclassified 50-page transcript, Davidson warned that Beijing has the capability and capacity to control the South China Sea “in all scenarios short of war with the United States.”
In prior testimony Davidson also warned that China is seeking “a long-term strategy to reduce the US access and influence in the region.” He claims the US must maintain its critical military assets in the area, adding that he views China as “no longer a rising power,” but rather a “great power and peer competitor to the United States in the region.”
Beijing has been building up its military infrastructure in the Spratly and Paracel archipelagos to tighten its control of the region, despite protests from its neighbors and especially the US.