H-6K bombers, Su-30 and Su-35 fighter jets were among the aircraft involved in the combat patrols and drills, and they also passed over the Miyako Strait, which lies between two Japanese islands, the air force said in a statement on Sunday. It called the exercises the air force’s best preparation for war.
The air force did not say when or specify where the drills took place.
Beijing’s muscle flexing came days after lawmakers approved changes to the Chinese constitution and confirmed a new government line-up.
During his closing speech to the legislature on Tuesday, President Xi Jinping sent a strong nationalist message, saying China would crush any attempt to “divide the nation” and highlighting Beijing’s hardline stance towards any talk of independence for Taiwan and Hong Kong.
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The air force released footage of the drills, as Japan’s defence ministry on Friday confirmed that eight Chinese military aircraft – including six H-6K bombers, a Tu-154 reconnaissance plane and a Yun-8 transport plane – had passed over the Miyako Strait that day.
Zeng Zhiping, a military expert at the Nanchang Institute of Technology in Jiangxi province, said the scale of the exercise was unusual for China’s air force.
“Rather than a fighter jet or two, numerous military aircraft with multiple functions passed over the Miyako Strait before they carried out this mission – this is by no means something that happens regularly,” Zeng said.
The Su-35 fighter jet was among a number of military aircraft involved in the exercises. Photo: PLA Air Force
The country is in the midst of an ambitious military modernisation programme overseen by Xi, with a heavy focus on its air force and navy, from building stealth fighters to adding aircraft carriers.
Beijing insists it has no hostile intent, but its sabre-rattling in the busy South China Sea, and around Taiwan, has touched a nerve in the region and in Washington.