China air force says to continue with flight drills at sea: Report

An aerial photo taken though a glass window of a Philippine military plane shows the alleged on-going land reclamation by China on Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands.
An aerial photo taken though a glass window of a Philippine military plane shows the alleged on-going land reclamation by China on Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands.PHOTO: REUTERS

SHANGHAI (REUTERS) – The Chinese air force will keep conducting drills at sea regardless of whatever interference it may encounter, China’s state broadcaster reported, following reports that Chinese warplanes flew near Japan and Taiwan in recent days. 

“The air force’s distant sea training has become normal, systemic and practical,” China Central Television quoted air force spokesman Shen Jinke late on Thursday (July 27) as saying.

The operations “have faced and dealt with a variety of forms of interference and obstruction, but no matter the obstruction we will carry on just as in the past,” Shen said. “No matter who shadows us we will fly often and frequently,” he said, adding that the flights were legal and reasonable.

The air force said on its microblog earlier this month its planes had recently flown through both the Miyako Strait – which lies between two southern Japanese islands – and the Bashi Channel that separates Taiwan and the Philippines.

China’s long-range flight drills at sea, which started three years ago, were not targeted at any specific country or region, Shen was quoted as saying.

But the flights have stirred concern among China’s neighbours.

In a speech on Friday, President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan, viewed by Beijing as a breakaway province, expressed confidence the self-ruled island can protect itself. 

“The People’s Liberation Army has had frequent activities in the sea and air during this period,” Taiwan’s defence ministry quoted Tsai as saying in a statement. “Our military not only monitored them from the beginning to the end, but were also prepared with contingency plans.”

She made the remarks on a visit to an air force base in southern Taiwan, where the air force held a drill to simulate its recent surveillance of the Chinese flights.

On Tuesday, Taiwan’s defence ministry responded to a series of recent flybys by Chinese fighter and reconnaissance aircraft, saying the self-governed island was prepared to defend itself against China.

Beijing claims Taiwan as a part of China and has never ruled out the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control, warning that any moves towards formal independence could prompt an armed response.

Japan’s air force regularly scrambles jets to monitor and chase away nearby Chinese military planes, fearing that China’s probing of its air defences is part of a push to extend its military influence in the East China Sea and western Pacific, where Japan controls an island chain stretching 1,400km  south towards Taiwan.