Chinese Navy’s sorties in the Pacific Ocean worry Japan and Taiwan

According to the SCMP, as part of a naval exercise called "Joint Sword," China's second operational carrier, the Shandong, has completed over 600 sorties, a record for the PLA.
Christopher McFadden
Chinese carrier Shandong set new sortie benchmark.

Tyg728/Wikimedia Commons 

According to the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the latest Chinese aircraft carrier, the Shandong, has completed around 600 take-offs and landings during maneuvers in April this year. This, SCMP also reports, forms part of an apparent increase in jet and helicopter activity in the western Pacific Ocean that could, the Japanese fear, be part of larger multi-service drills.

According to Japan's Joint Staff Office, the reported number of take-offs and landings by navy fighter planes and helicopters from Shandong in the 18 days starting on April 7 was about 620, up from 320 from the Liaoning in the 15 days of an exercise in December. According to the Joint Staff Office, the carrier group began training on April 7 with Z-18J helicopters and J-15 carrier-based fighter planes on the flight deck in the Philippine Sea, east of Taiwan, and south of Japan's Yaeyama and Miyako islands in the Ryukyu chain.

A retired PLA colonel named Yue Gang says the SCMP suggested that the Shandong's greater sortie rate may have resulted from its focus on testing its flight capabilities, which is a fundamental duty of an aircraft carrier. State broadcaster CCTV said last week that the Liaoning, which joined active duty seven years before the Shandong, was already holding exercises on air defense and anti-submarine training to replicate combat scenarios.

The Shandong, the nation's second combat-ready carrier, participated in the "Joint Sword" exercises around Taiwan from April 8 to 10, marking the first time an aircraft carrier was involved in a drill targeting the self-governing island, along with its escorts, which included cutting-edge Type 055 and Type 052D destroyers.

Taiwan's defense ministry, according to the SCMP, also reported that it first noticed J-15 jets entering its self-declared air defense identification zone during the "Joint Sword" exercise. This exercise is believed to have reacted to a meeting between US House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in California earlier this year.

The Shandong and China's first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, according to Song Zhongping, a former People's Liberation Army instructor, would be helpful in a fight over Taiwan, mainly to prevent American or Japanese soldiers from assisting Taiwan's military. According to him, the vessels could also prevent Taiwanese forces from leaving the island and transporting weapons and other supplies. "An effective strike on the eastern part of the Taiwan island requires the help of air infrastructure," he explained, according to the SCMP.

If you are unaware, Beijing views Taiwan as a province that broke away from the mainland and should be reunited with it, maybe via force. Even though Washington opposes Beijing's attempts to annex the island forcibly (as do many other nations), Washington does not recognize the island as an independent state.

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