The Chinese army has sent a team of powerful jets to the disputed South China Sea, days after a US warship sailed through the waters.
Chinese fighters patrol disputed waters in war games
The country’s air force said over the weekend that a number of H-6K bombers and Su-30 and Su-35 fighters had carried out combat patrols in the Beijing-claimed territory. The military said the aircraft also flew over the Miyako Strait, which sits between two southern Japanese islands.
“Military exercises are rehearsals for future wars,” the air force said, without providing the exact time and location of the drills. “They are the most direct preparation for combat.”
The drills were the latest show of strength after Chinese leader Xi Jinping kicked off his second presidential term earlier this month.
Since coming to power in 2012, Xi has taken a hardline stance in China’s territorial disputes with its neighbors.
Beijing has stepped up patrols, island building and military facility construction in the South China Sea.
President Xi is also overseeing a massive modernization program aimed at making the military more combat ready.
Zeng Zhiping, a military expert at the Nanchang Institute of Technology in eastern China, said the recent drills were on an even larger scale than the past ones.
“Rather than a fighter jet or two, numerous military aircraft with multiple functions passed over the Miyako Strait,” Zeng said.
“This is by no means something that happens regularly.”
China’s muscle-flexing in the region has left many neighboring governments nervous.
Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei also have competing claims in the South China Sea.
The waterway acts as a key maritime trade route and contains lucrative fishing grounds, as well as oil and gas deposits.
The US has said it does not take a stand in the disputes, but will maintain “Freedom of Navigation” patrols in the area.
The US Navy has patrolled near China-built islands since October 2015 as part of the Freedom of Navigation program, which was initiated by the US government in 1979 to contest what it considers “excessive” territorial claims.
In one such patrol last Friday, a US destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island in the Spratlys, an island chain also claimed by Manila.
The Chinese government condemned the operation hours later, saying the US had harmed Chinese sovereignty and security.
While consolidating his power within the ruling Communist Party, Xi has been sending strong nationalist messages.
Analysts have said the president’s assertive foreign policy will continue.