On Monday, China’s air force held its first exercise in western Pacific Ocean airspace. As reported by the South China Morning Post, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) carried out drills in the air over the Bashi Channel, the body of water between Taiwan and the Philippines archipelago, considered the rim of the first island chain. The purpose of the exercise was to boost the PLAAF’s capability to carry out far-sea operations.
Little is known about the specifics of the exercise. Colonel Shen Jinke, the PLAAF spokesperson who was quoted by a Chinese military news outlet, gave little information about the number of aircraft involved or specific types. The PLA Daily‘s English-language article on the exercise was accompanied by pictures of PLAAF “new-type” strategic bombers, suggesting the exercise could have had a strategic bombing focus.
“Training in the airspace far from China is an effective way for the PLA Air Force to temper its combat capability and also a common practice of world powers’ air forces,” said Col Shen, according to the PLA Daily. To assuage concerns from neighboring states, the report notes that “this training by the PLA Air Force complies with relevant international laws and practices, is not aimed at any country or target and poses no threat to any country or region.”
The exercise is indicative of China’s interest in preparing its military branches for expeditionary and far-sea operations. Traditionally, the People’s Liberation Army has been an insular military force, primarily concerned with the defense of China’s territory from external threats. However, with China’s rise and growing strategic interests in Asia’s near seas, the PLA has focused its efforts on expeditionary readiness. The PLAAF’s recent exercise is but a step in realizing a robust expeditionary capability.