China’s Air Force has carried out a series of military drills and patrols in the Western Pacific region after passing through a strait between Japanese islands, a move that could escalate tensions in the region.
China's Air Force spokesman, Shen Jinke, said Sunday that the sorties by more than 40 bombers and fighter jets were part of regular long-range drills in the Western Pacific and patrols over the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) to protect China's sovereignty and national security.
Shen said in his statement on the Ministry of Defense website that Chinese aircraft carried out the exercises in the Western Pacific after flying through a strait between the Japanese islands of Miyako and Okinawa.
He said the patrols were to “carefully monitor and judge the foreign military aircraft that enter the anti-aircraft defense zone, to take measures to respond to different threats in the sky and to protect national airspace.”
The drills come amid heightened tensions over China’s increasingly assertive presence in the South and East China Seas.
China is in dispute with Japan over a series of uninhabited islets in the East China Sea while similar disputes exist between Beijing and countries like Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines over the South China Sea. The United States has also become wary of China’s activities in those seas and has supported claims against Beijing.
Japan and the US reacted angrily to China’s decision in 2013 to impose an ADIZ in the East China Sea, in which aircraft are required to identify themselves to Chinese authorities.
The Miyako Strait, which Chinese bombers and fighter planes used Sunday to reach the Western Pacific, has been often used by China's Navy as a strategic pathway from the East China Sea to the Pacific Ocean.