Japanese Defense officials said on Tuesday that fighter jets and helicopters aboard China’s Liaoning aircraft carrier had undertaken more than 100 landings and takeoffs near Okinawa in the past week, potentially strengthening the Chinese Navy’s capabilities to function in more distant places.
The activities took place in waters between 160 kilometers southwest of Okinawa Prefecture’s Okidaito Island and 150 kilometers south of its Ishigaki Island, said Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi.
“The recent activities by the Chinese military may be an attempt to improve their ability to operate aircraft carriers and conduct operations in more distant waters and airspace,” Kishi told a news conference.
“Given that these activities are in the sea and airspace near Japan’s Nansei Islands and Taiwan, we must watch these activities with concern.”
The takeoffs and landings continued for six days till Sunday. Upon taking off from the aircraft carrier, the fighter jets were also seen soaring in formation.
According to the Defense Ministry, eight Chinese warships on May 1 and 2, including the Liaoning and advanced guided-missile destroyers, passed through the Miyako Strait between Okinawa’s main island and Miyako Island.
For the next six days, the flotilla traveled in the area between Okidaito and Ishigaki islands, with carrier-based fighters and helicopters performing landing and takeoff training.
The Japanese Defense Minister also noted that these takeoffs took place in the closest maritime territory to Japan. He also stressed that Tokyo must keep a close eye on Beijing’s military activities in the oceans and airspace surrounding the Nansei Islands, which are located southwest of Kyushu and Taiwan.
China’s military claimed on Monday that from Friday to Sunday, it conducted air and naval drills east and southwest of Taiwan. On Friday, 18 Chinese aircraft entered Taiwan’s air defense identification zone.
Looking ahead, Beijing’s perception of the security environment is thought to be influenced by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Before the war, many analysts expected that China would use military force to unify Taiwan by 2027.
Japan on High Alert
In the wake of China’s extensive military exercises in the region, Japan is keeping a close eye on the PLA navy’s activities in the waterways surrounding the country. The country stated that it would continue to monitor the situation and maintain surveillance at sea and in the air.
The defense minister said that Japan’s Izumo — a de-facto aircraft carrier that, along with its sister ship the Kaga, is the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s largest vessel — is monitoring the Liaoning-led flotilla and remains on alert.
“The Defense Ministry will continue to monitor the movements of the Chinese military in the waters surrounding Japan with a strong sense of urgency,” Kishi added.
China has been taking aggressive actions at sea in an apparent show of might, raising concerns among Japanese officials about unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force.
Since December, the Liaoning has not been spotted in the area when it led another flotilla through the Miyako Strait for similar exercises involving ship-based helicopters, fighter aircraft, and other vessels, as previously reported by the EurAsian Times.
In April last year, another Liaoning-led flotilla traveled across the Miyako Strait, conducting military maneuvers near democratic Taiwan. On Monday, China’s military said in a statement that it also had conducted joint combat operations exercises near Taiwan for three days.
Threat to Taiwan?
Taiwan is likewise on high alert due to the presence of the Chinese Navy close by. Taiwan’s local media revealed on 8 May that the ministry had placed Sky Bow III missiles with a maximum range of 200 kilometers (125 miles) to respond to threats to eastern Taiwan.
In addition, F-16V, the most advanced fighter jet in Taiwan, will be stationed at Taitung’s Chihang Base, while several Hsiung Feng III and Harpoon missiles will be relocated to the east.
Taiwan considers itself a sovereign country, but China says the self-governing, democratic island is a Chinese province and promises to join it with the mainland by force if needed.
Shi Hong, the editor of a Chinese military magazine, was quoted by the Global Times as saying that the waters where the Liaoning carrier group is doing maneuvers are “a vital sea region should a reunification-by-force operation take place.”
“By moving in tandem with aerial and maritime forces from the Chinese mainland, the carrier group could completely cut off the routes foreign forces may take if they militarily interfere with the Taiwan question,” Shi was quoted as saying.
Experts pointed out that China’s other active carrier, the Shandong, is in port for maintenance, demonstrating that “the PLA still has the problem of dual aircraft carrier maritime confrontation, and its navigation scope is also limited.”