China conducted what it called a “routine” combat flight test Thursday to prepare its air force for a potential upcoming military conflict. Chinese military spokesperson Shen Jinke said the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) sent a team of Xian H-6K bombers over the Bashi Channel, which separates China from its rival government in Taiwan, and the Miyako Strait, which lies between the Japanese islands of Miyako and Okinawa in the East China Sea, according the official Xinhua News Agency and Communist Party newspaper The Global Times.
“Shen said that after the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, the PLA air force began training with the aim of honing their ability to win a potential war, which shows that those in the military are committed to their obligations in the new era,” The Global Times reported.
Shen said that the bombers took off from an inland airport and that “various bombers” also patrolled the nearby South China Sea. China reportedly began conducting such drills in 2015 and Japan has demanded China inform it before crossing through the Miyako Strait. When Japan protested to a flyover of Chinese H-6 bombers in July, the Chinese Defense Ministry defended its actions and told Japan to “get used to it.”
China has amped up efforts to improve the air force’s combat readiness since President Xi Jinping emphasized a more powerful military during the 19th Chinese Communist Party Congress last month.
In his opening address to the congress, which happened only twice a decade, Xi said he was looking to build a world-class military “built to fight” by 2050. A PLA commander also said during the congress that “planes circling the island of Taiwan would become routine during their training,” Xinhua News Agency reported, according to The Japan Times. China does not recognize Taiwan’s sovereignty and has pledged to annex the self-ruling island territory.
China’s increased military exercises have raised concerns in Japan and Taiwan, which both dispute their mutual rival’s vast territorial claims in the East and South China Seas. The U.S. has also boosted its presence in the region in an attempt to block China’s moves, which allegedly include the construction of artificial, militarized islands, something China has denied.
China has also played a major role in the ongoing nuclear dispute between the U.S. and North Korea. Communism came to both China and North Korea around the same time in the late 1940s and the two banded together against the U.S. and U.N.-backed forces of South Korea in the early 1950s. China, while retaining its communist politics, has largely opened up to the West in the decades since, but its reclusive neighbor has rejected relations with the U.S.
China has offered to mediate between the U.S. and North Korea, which claimed it had the right to build nuclear weapons in order to deter an invasion. Xi and his officials have criticized both President Donald Trump and North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Un over their militant rhetoric toward one another.