Asia & Pacific

Chinese Heavy Bombers Fly Over Disputed South China Sea

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A sortie of People’s Liberation Army Air Force H-6K bombers conducted another flight over the disputed South China Sea on Thursday.

The flights are "routine," part of "combat air patrols," a Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman told Xinhua. The H-6K bombers deployed from an inland port in northern China, spokesman Shen Jinke noted. The representative did not disclose how many aircraft were involved in the exercise.

Jinke told China Central Television the mission demonstrated the PLAAF has the ability to breach the "First Island Chain," a line spanning from Japan to Taiwan that Beijing claims has been used to contain China as far back as the Cold War, the South China Morning Post reports.

The one-day operation comes after Chinese President Xi Jinping "ordered them [the PLA] to be combat-ready all the time," Beijing-based security expert Li Jie told SCMP, adding, "the air patrol also aimed at showing the PLAAF is ready to join with the navy in the high seas for all kinds of missions."

Over the weekend, H-6K bombers were joined by Tu-154MD electronic-intelligence aircraft during a mission near the Miyako Strait, causing Japan to scramble fighter planes. The mission marked the first time PLAAF jets had flown near Taiwan since the end of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in late October.

The Chinese air force plans to make "planes circling the island of Taiwan" a "routine" part of the military's training regiment, according to Chinese military officials.

Since the National Congress came to an end, the air force has been "honing their ability to win a potential war," Shen said. Beijing has long viewed the self-governing island of Taiwan as a Chinese territory gone astray.