China holds live combat exercise in East China Sea

Sunday's drill included take-offs from deck of China's sole aircraft carrier by fighter jets

BEIJING • China's sole aircraft carrier has led a flotilla of naval vessels in a "live combat drill" in the East China Sea, state media reported yesterday, the latest show of force by Beijing's burgeoning navy.

Xinhua news agency said the vessels "took part in anti-aircraft and anti-submarine warfare training" with a simulated "opposing force".

The drill on Sunday included multiple take-offs from the deck of the Liaoning aircraft carrier by J-15 fighter jets, according to Xinhua, which added that "anti-air missiles were fired from ships surrounding the carrier".

The manoeuvre occurred in the East China Sea, though the report did not give an exact location.

The sea is home to uninhabited islets at the centre of a festering row between Tokyo and Beijing.

China bitterly objects to Japan's nationalisation of the islets in 2012 while Japan has long complained about China's routine dispatch of coast guard ships to waters surrounding the islands.

The presence of a naval convoy carrying out live fire drills in the East China Sea could anger Tokyo.

The Liaoning is a refurbished Cold War-era aircraft carrier that was bought from Ukraine and commissioned in 2012.

It has been on a high-visibility tour in recent weeks, carrying out a series of muscle-flexing drills accompanied by a flotilla of support ships, including destroyers.

Earlier this month, Chinese President Xi Jinping inspected the convoy as it conducted exercises in the disputed South China Sea.

Beijing asserts sovereignty over almost all of the resource-rich waterway, building an archipelago of artificial islands there capable of hosting military equipment, despite rival claims from several of its South-east Asian neighbours.

The flotilla then held two separate drills last week in waters on either side of Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a breakaway province.

Taipei dismissed the exercises last week as "routine" after expected large-scale naval manoeuvres failed to materialise, calling them the "cheapest way of verbal intimidation and sabre-rattling".

Yesterday, Taiwan's Defence Ministry announced that it will practise thwarting a Chinese "invasion" in annual live fire drills in June, simulating surprise coastal assaults to reflect increased military threats from Beijing.

The five-day drill, codenamed "Han Kuang" or "Han Glory", will start from June 4.

"Simply put, the main goal of the drill is to make any Chinese communist military mission to invade Taiwan fail," said Defence Ministry spokesman Chen Chung-chi.

"It simulates this year's situation and we are taking into consideration China's air and naval movements in the region," he added.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 25, 2018, with the headline 'China holds live combat exercise in East China Sea'. Print Edition | Subscribe