China's air force says recent long-range drills routine

A Chinese military plane H-6 bomber flies through airspace between Okinawa prefecture's main island and the smaller "Miyako island' in southern Japan, out over the Pacific, in this handout photo taken October 27, 2013 by Japan Air Self-Defence Force and released by the Joint Staff Office of the Defense Ministry of Japan. Joint Staff Office of the Defense Ministry of Japan/HANDOUT via Reuters/File Photo

BEIJING (Reuters) - Long-range air force drills recently conducted above the East and South China Seas, that rattled Japan and self-ruled Taiwan, are routine and normal military activities, China’s air force said on Thursday.

Chinese military aircraft on Saturday flew between Japan’s Okinawa and Miyako islands and over waterways near Taiwan, seen by Beijing as a renegade province, Taiwan said.

Japan protested to China over a Chinese complaint that Japanese fighter jets had engaged in “dangerous and unprofessional” behavior when they scrambled as the Chinese aircraft flew near Japanese islands.

In a statement on its official microblog, the Chinese air force said the drills were normal military activities.

“This is the air force’s mission, its responsibility, it is lawful, reasonable and fair, and happened as in the past according to plan,” it said.

The air force said it noted foreign media reports of the aircraft types involved, including the H-6K strategic bomber and Su-30 fighter jet, and that this had “attracted public attention at home and abroad”.

While it did not confirm what aircraft flew in the drills, it showed pictures of both aircraft as part of its microblog statement, without saying when or where the pictures were taken.

“In the past two years of the Chinese air force’s holding drills far out at sea, we have dealt with and handled various forms of interference and obstruction, carrying out reconnaissance and early warning, patrol, attack, air refueling and other drills,” it added.

This has improved the air force’s ability to wage battle far out at sea, enabling it to protect the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, it said.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry