China’s new J-20 stealth air superiority fighter has been deployed to the Eastern Theatre Command, the military region of the People’s Liberation Army bordering Taiwan, the South China Morning Post has reported, citing Chinese language media and the social media accounts of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force.
Earlier this week, the PLAAF posted a photo on social media showing a J-20, number #62001, joining operations under the 9th brigade at Wuhu. The frontline aviation unit already reportedly received between two and four J-20s starting in October 2018.
The Chengdu J-20 officially entered service in February 2018. Earlier this year, Gen. Charles Brown, the commander of the US’ Pacific Air Forces, said he believed the stealth aircraft could “possibly” be deemed combat ready before the end of the year. The aircraft has already caused considerable headaches for US military planners, given that its capabilities are designed to rival those of the F-22 and the F-35, and the fighter’s multiple reported upgrades in recent years. The J-20 is expected to begin mass production this year. According to Gen. Brown, the capabilities afforded China by the stealth aircraft would give them “greater capability” in the Pacific and make China a “greater threat” to US air power.
Last week, in response to the Washington's approval of the sale of $2.2 billion in weapons to Taiwan, including over 100 Abrams tanks, Stinger missiles, and other advanced arms, Beijing announced that it would be staging drills near the Taiwan Strait. The drills were kicked off on Monday, with areas off the coast of Guangdong and Fujian provinces west of Taiwan off limits until 6 pm Friday. An area off the coast of Zhejiang province, northwest of the island was also placed off limits for commercial traffic until Thursday.
On Thursday, the US sailed a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruise through the Taiwan Strait, with the ship continuing the half dozen or so similar missions in the region in recent months.
Taiwan severed ties with mainland China at the end of the Chinese Civil War, after Nationalist forces were defeated and fled to the island. Economic ties and informal relations between the two sides were resumed starting in the late 1980s, and in the 1990s, contacts were formed through non-governmental organizations. The US and most countries around the world support the ‘One-China principle’, recognising a single Chinese state (the People’s Republic of China) which doesn’t preclude them from maintaining unofficial ties with Taipei.
Beijing maintains that Taiwan is an integral part of China, and intends to see the island’s eventual reintegration and unification with the mainland.