China air force says conducted 'multiple' long-range missions this week

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s air force said on Saturday that its fighters and bombers conducted “multiple” long-range drills far out at sea this week, including flying near Japan and self-ruled Taiwan, in what it said was a test of its ability to operate over the sea.

In a statement on its official microblog, the air force said its aircraft had flown through both the Miyako Strait - which lies between two southern Japanese islands - and the Bashi Channel that separates Taiwan and the Philippines.

“China’s air force over the past week conducted multiple drills far out at sea, with H-6K bombers and many other types of aircraft flying through the Bashi Channel and Miyako Strait, testing actual battle capabilities over the sea,” it said.

The exercises were part of routine drills planned for this year, accord with international law and practices and are not aimed at any specific country, the air force added.

Such exercises will continue, it added.

China’s Defence Ministry told Japan on Friday to “get used to it” after it flew six warplanes over the Miyako Strait.

China has been increasingly asserting itself in territorial disputes in the South and East China Seas. Beijing is also worried about Taiwan, claimed by China as its own but run by a government China fears is intent on independence.

Beijing has never ruled out the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control, and has warned any moves towards formal independence could prompt an armed response.

China is in the midst of an ambitious military modernization program that includes building aircraft carriers and developing stealth fighters, to give it the ability to project power far from its shores.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Hugh Lawson