China conducted a large-scale aerial bombardment exercise over the weekend as tensions escalated over Taiwan, prompted by a joint statement about the island from the United States and Japan.
The People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theatre Command, which oversees the Taiwan Strait, deployed dozens of H-6K strategic bombers in a nine-hour live-fire drill, according to state television.
The bombers took off in groups from a military airport in eastern China in combat formations amid low-visibility conditions and headed towards an “unknown shooting range”, the CCTV report said.
During their flights the H-6Ks, which have a maximum load capacity of 15 tonnes, also practised electronic countermeasures with air-defence missile units. Once they reached their target airspace, they dropped free-fall aerial bombs from different altitudes, the report said.
After returning to base, the planes repeated the exercise during the night, it added.
“The long hours, high-intensity, day-night training has quickly increased the [air force’s] assault abilities and improved actual combat capabilities,” CCTV said.
The report did not state where the shooting range was, but a Chinese military insider said the H-6Ks were dropping bombs somewhere in remote northwestern Qinghai province instead of their designated battlefield on the southeast coast facing Taiwan.
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“It’s a large-scale drill, with many bombs being dropped. There are no big shooting ranges in the eastern and southern theatre commands,” said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“The PLA doesn’t want to make undue provocations against Taiwan just yet, because peaceful means are still the best way to solve the Taiwan problem,” the source added.
The exercise came after the US and Japanese leaders mentioned Taiwan in a joint statement, a first since 1969.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and US President Joe Biden angered Beijing on Friday by saying they “underscore the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and encourage the peaceful resolution of cross-strait issues”.
China said such comments were harmful to regional peace and stability and vowed to resolutely defend its national sovereignty, security and development interests.
Beijing regards Taiwan as part of its territory to be brought under mainland Chinese control, by force if necessary.
The PLA has ramped up military activity near the self-ruled island as tensions escalate between Washington and Beijing over Taiwan, including sending warplanes into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone on an almost daily basis in recent months.
Additional reporting by Minnie Chan
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