As the US and South Korea began their biggest ever joint aerial drill on Monday (4 December) to challenge North Korean provocations, China announced it conducted a similar exercise near the Korean peninsula.
The communist country, however, did not reveal the exact date and location of the exercise. Media reports suggest the Chinese aircraft that took part in the air drill flew through "routes and areas it has never flown before" over the Yellow and East seas.
Chinese Air force spokesman Shen Jinke made the announcement at an airport in northern China on Monday, according to a South China Morning Post report, which noted that the Chinese exercise was staged in an apparent show of force to Washington and Seoul.
Not revealing when and where the exercise was staged, Shen only said that their warplanes ventured into unknown areas. He added that this kind of training exercise was likely to become a regular feature to strengthen the air force's capabilities to safeguard China's strategic interests.
The exercise involved Chinese air force reconnaissance planes, fighter jets, and an early warning and control aircraft. It also included a joint operation with surface-to-air missile units, he said.
Commenting on the possible location of the Chinese air drill, Song Zhongping, a military affairs specialist in Hong Kong, told the paper that the aircraft may have flown over sensitive areas of China's air defence identification zone (ADIZ) over the East China Sea. The zone, created in 2011, overlaps with Japanese and South Korean airspace.
Song added that the Chinese surveillance aircraft involved in the exercise would have helped Beijing in collecting intelligence about the latest US military deployments on the Korean peninsula.
Beijing-based military expert Li Jie said that the Chinese air exercise was a show of force to the US and South Korea and an answer to their ongoing joint drill. "The timing of this high-profile announcement by the PLA [People's Liberation Army] is also a warning to Washington and Seoul not to provoke Pyongyang any further," he noted.
The joint drill by the North Korean adversaries — dubbed Vigilant ACE — follows a spate of threats issued by the Kim Jong-un regime against them, and its latest and most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile test, the Hwasong-15. More than 230 warplanes, including US' six F-22 Raptors and six F-35As, along with 12,000 personnel are taking part in the joint exercise.