Recently the Peoples Liberation Army Air Force announced that it had been involved in a number of training patrols over the South China Sea.
Article submitted by Peter Henson
These exercises covered the Bashi channel between Taiwan and the Philippines in the south and the Miyako Straight Japan and Taiwan to the north. The Chinese Air force used the long range H-6K bombers. These highly capable aircraft have nuclear strike capability and can host a vast array of anti-surface, anti-ship ballistic missiles and LT PGB laser guided bombs.
The geographical location of these exercises have historical as well as physical importance. PLA Air force spokesman Shen Jinke announced to the media that the training was initiated to “improve maritime real combat capabilities and forge the forces’ battle methods”.
Shen also stated that the patrol showed Chinese capability to breach the ‘First Island Chain’. The concept of the ‘First Island Chain’ was developed during the Cold War in the 1950’s by US diplomat John Dulles. The island chain of channels and straights stretches from the tip of Japan through to Taiwan and the Philippines. These islands were seen as a physical barrier or containment from Communist China during the Cold War era. China’s new assertion is a similar approach to that of their Russian allies. As Russia prods western defences with Tu-95 Bear bombers along numerous NATO borders in Europe and North America, China seems to be following their example.
The key difference for China is that it seeks to assert its sovereignty over the South China Sea and this could eventually include over Taiwan, the breakaway republic.
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s made it clear in his Party Congress speech in October that Taiwan was still an active concern:
“[We will] resolutely safeguard the national sovereignty and territorial integrity and will absolutely not tolerate the tragedy of the country’s split. Any activity aiming to split the motherland will be firmly opposed by all the Chinese people. We have a firm will, sufficient faith, and adequate capacity to defeat any intention of ‘Taiwan independence’ in any form.”
The rhetoric over Taiwan was upped further when it was reported in The Xinhua that the PLA Air Force commander the Key Party Congress, “planes circling the island of Taiwan would become routine during their training”.
As China’s military continues its modernisation and expansion Taiwan has increased its purchase of American defence hardware. In June, the US agreed to a $1.42 billion arms package.
In September Donald Trump offered to relax arms restrictions on ‘sophisticated’ military gear to South Korea and Japan in the wake of the recent North Korea threats. The potential sales of highly advanced missile and radar systems poses a risks to China’s assertion of sovereignty in its own back garden. China’s increase in military patrols and exercises would seem to be a reflection of its regional ambitions and a way of keeping pressures on its ideological opponents.