Chinese bombers alarmed U.S. allies Monday, leading both Japan and South Korea to scramble fighters in response.
Eight People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) aircraft — specifically six Xian H-6 heavy bombers, one Shaanxi Y-8 early-warning aircraft, and one Shaanxi Y-9 intelligence plane — drilled in the Sea of Japan.
PLAN spokesman Liang Yang said the exercises were “a regular arrangement in accordance with the annual training plan.”
Chinese aircraft flew through the Korea Strait, which runs between Japan and South Korea. Chinese bombers have not passed through the strait since August, the Japanese foreign ministry revealed.
Japan scrambled fighters from its Air Self-Defense Force (ASDF) as Chinese naval aviation forces flew from the East China Sea to the Sea of Japan via the Tsushima Strait.
Chinese media criticized Japan for stirring up trouble.
The drills constitute “normal routine training, and Japan panicked and overreacted, which shows Japan may have wanted to hype the event and act as a trouble maker,” the Global Times said, quoting Chinese military expert Fu Qianshao.
Incidents between Chinese aircraft and Japan’s ASDF occur frequently. Japanese fighters took to the skies in December when China’s carrier battle group led by the Liaoning, as well as fighters and bombers at an earlier date, passed through the Miyako Strait on their way to the Western Pacific.
While they were close, the Chinese aircraft did not violate Japanese airspace during the drill Monday.
The Chinese planes did, however, enter South Korea’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). South Korea countered the intrusion by sending out 10 fighter jets — F-15Ks and KF-16s — to issue a warning.
Tensions between Japan and China are high over territorial disputes in the East China Sea, the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in particular, and increased militarization on both sides. Relations between China and South Korea have deteriorated since South Korea and the U.S. announced plans to install a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile shield in Seongju. China regards the missile shield’s radar system as a national security threat and has vowed to take “necessary measures” in response.
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