Taiwan's Defense Ministry announced Tuesday that it detected People's Liberation Army H-6K heavy bombers, accompanied by Y-8 airlifters and Su-30 fighters, flying east from Huiyang air base in Guangdong Province toward the Pacific Ocean. The aircraft passed through the Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the Philippines before turning and heading back, Japan Times reported.
The ministry also said it detected two PLA Navy vessels, but didn't name what type they were.
The flights are the first such drills in half a year. The first half of 2018 saw half a dozen such operations, which accompanied rhetoric from Beijing hostile to the idea of Taiwanese independence.
The government in Taipei represents all that remains of the Republic of China, which the Communist Party of China evicted from the mainland in 1949 when it won the decades-long civil war. Each side maintains it is the sole legitimate Chinese government. However, after Tsai Ing-wen rose to the Taiwanese presidency in 2016 and refused to affirm an agreement to that effect, some feared it might be the precursor to a declaration of independence. Beijing has made clear that such an event would lead to war.
However, Tsai's Democratic People's Party was dealt a stinging blow in elections last month, losing parliamentary seats and mayorships to their rivals, the Nationalist Party, which are firmly against the idea of an independent Taiwan. Beijing greeted the change warmly, indicating its willingness to cooperate with Nationalist politicians and reward parts of the country that voted for the party with economic investment, Sputnik reported.
Tuesday's exercise may be a response to controversial live-fire drills held by Taipei in the South China Sea in the days immediately before the November 24 elections. Staged near the Spratly Islands, which are claimed by Beijing, the exercises drew condemnation from regional neighbors, Sputnik reported.
Asia Times also noted that the H-6K bombers are capable of reaching the US air base at Guam, about 1,600 miles east of Taiwan, and that this might have been a demonstration of that fact, given increasing tensions between the US and China.
China's H-6K bombers, built by Xi'an Aircraft Industrial Corporation, have been in service since 1969 and are modeled heavily on the Tupolev Tu-16 Badger developed by the Soviet Union, which was allied with China until the early 1960s. The plane has been modified to serve a number of roles, including reconnaissance, electronic warfare, in-flight refueling and strategic bombing. They can carry nuclear weapons.