China is staging controversial military exercises in the sea bordering North Korea, allegedly in response to joint military drills in the region between South Korea and the United States. The exercises appear to be a defiant message to Washington D.C. and Seoul that China intends to maintain a “balance of power,” according to military experts in the region.
The Chinese Air Force released a statement on Monday claiming that surveillance aircraft were carrying out exercises in both the East China Sea and the Yellow Sea “to improve combat-readiness and safeguard the country’s strategic interests.”
The flight near the Korean peninsula was timed to coincide with U.S. fighter jets arriving in South Korea for the yearly “Vigilant Ace” joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States that began this week. The drill involved F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets deployed among more than 200 other aircraft simulating precision attacks on North Korea’s military buildings.
The allied exercises this week also include Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighters, adding the highest number of 5th generation jets to have taken part in the two countries’ history, according to a U.S. Air Force spokesman based in South Korea. The South Korean troops have been joined by around 12,000 U.S. Military service members, from both the U.S. Marines and Navy, and the aircraft have flown from 8 separate American and South Korean military bases. South Korean media reports that B-1B Lancer bombers may also join in the exercises.
The Chinese military drills take place amid extreme tensions in East Asia. Last week, North Korea test-fired its most advanced Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile. The claim that it is now capable of re-entering the earth’s atmosphere and penetrating the United States mainland. Sources on both sides say that the possibility of war between the U.S. and North Korea is growing rapidly. Last weekend, White House National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster told reporters the chances of war with a nuclear-armed North Korea are “increasing every day”.
According to Chinese Air Force spokesman Shen Jinke, Chinese aircraft “arrived in air lanes and regions that we have never been to before” this week. He announced on social media that the latest maneuvers involved “fighter jets, early warning aircraft and surface-to-air missile forces.” “The Chinese air force will conduct high-sea exercises under combat conditions on a regular basis,” Mr. Shen added.
Regional experts claim the Chinese military exercises are a direct response to the annual U.S.-South Korea Vigilant Ace drill, which will continue until the weekend. A Beijing-based military analyst told The Telegraph newspaper: “China is showing that it can uphold the balance of power in the region.”
Earlier this week, the North Korean Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland (CRPF – reunification of the South under North Korean control) described President Donald Trump as “insane” and said that the allied drills will “push the already acute situation on the Korean peninsula to the brink of nuclear war”.