In keeping with China’s strategy of methodically encroaching on its geopolitical rivals via air force and naval drills in the Pacific, both Japan and South Korea scrambled fighter jets earlier this week as China suddenly expanded the scope of naval drills being held in the waters off the Korean peninsula.
The Associated Press reported that China sent a squad of fighter jets and bombers on a long-range military drill to the Sea of Japan. During their journey, the planes traveled through South Korean, Japanese and Taiwanese air defence zones, a move widely seen as China flexing its military muscles and asserting its dominance in the region.
The drills marked the first time China has sent warplanes through the strait that lies between South Korea and Japan.
Chinese air force spokesman Shen Jinke said the air force dispatched bombers, fighters and reconnaissance planes through the Tsushima Strait to the Sea of Japan to "test its ocean combat ability."
"This is a regular annual training arrangement of China's air force that accords with the relevant international laws and practices and it isn't aimed at any particular state, region and target," Shen said in a statement.
Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff confirmed that five Chinese warplanes — two bombers, two fighter jets and one reconnaissance plane — entered South Korea's air defense identification zone off a southern South Korean island all at the same time.
The plane then flew to the Japanese air defense zone above the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, a JCS official said on condition of anonymity, citing department rules.
In what’s perhaps the most galling detail of the story, South Korea used a military hotline to warn China of its planes' entrance to the zone, according to an anonymous official. China replied that the unannounced intrusion was part of its routine training.
Self-ruled Taiwan's military says China's air force held a separate drill Monday morning through the Bashi Channel separating Taiwan from the Philippines and then through the Miyako Strait, which lies north of Taiwan and to the south of Japan.
The Taiwanese defense ministry said Japan dispatched F-15 fighter jets to intercept the Chinese planes. Japan had no immediate comment on Monday's drill.
It was the second time this week that China had conducted drills around Taiwan.
As US generals have warned, China is pursuing an extremely aggressive military presence in the Pacific to assert itself as a dominant power in the region. China’s willingness to test boundaries has caused the number of confrontations between Japanese and Chinese fighter jets to escalate dramatically...
To be fair, China has also been alarmed by US naval vessels conducting so-called “freedom of navigation” missions near the contested Spratley Islands in the South China Sea.
US officials have described China’s repeated confrontations as part of a strategy of normalization, whereby Chinese officials repeatedly test boundaries until regional rivals gradually come to accept their expanded presence. Ultimately, the strategy is aimed at forcing the international community to accept “the nine-dash line” – the contest maritime border surrounding islands in the South China Sea that China has claimed and developed, but has been the subject of an international dispute with several of China’s regional neighbors.