China has been conducting major military drills near Taiwan and other areas of the western Pacific in an effort to push back against the increasing US activity in the region.
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s Shandong aircraft carrier was one of 20 naval vessels spotted participating in exercises in the region since Tuesday. Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said that it detected 68 PLA warplanes and 10 PLA naval vessels in the area from 6:00 am Wednesday to 6:00 am Thursday.
According to The South China Morning Post, the PLA’s Eastern Theater Command said its pilots were “taking part in long-distance, cross-theatre exercises to practice landing and taking off from unfamiliar airports.” Zhou Chenming, a researcher from the Beijing-based Yuan Wang military think tank, said the drills would become routine.
“Like the island encirclement patrol, cross-theatre drills have become routine, taking place in the Taiwan Strait and western Pacific, which is part of combat-readiness training to prepare for the outbreak of a Taiwan contingency,” Zhou said.
More aircraft could be involved in the drills than the ones tracked by Taiwan because Beijing’s J-20 stealth fighters were involved, and they cannot be tracked by the island’s radars. A source close to the PLA told the Post the deployment of J-20s was a response to “the United States’ deployment of hundreds of F-35 Lighting II planes to the region.”
China’s major drills came after a series of US exercises in the region, including drills with Australia, Japan, and the Philippines in the South China Sea, exercises with Indonesia, and a joint US-Canadian transit of the Taiwan Strait. The US is increasing its military activity in the region in the name of deterrence, but it has brought about a heavier Chinese military presence.