Japanese fighters and warships shadow Chinese navy strike group as PLA ‘flexes its muscles’ in Western Pacific

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The latest combat maneuvers by Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning’s fighter jets in the Western Pacific have raised regional concerns, with Japan deploying its light aircraft carrier Izumo and fighters to monitor the situation.

On Tuesday, Japan’s Defense Ministry said the Soviet-born PLA Kuznetsov-class aircraft carrier was photographed launching and recovering its carrier-borne J-15 fighters and alert helicopters. advanced Z-18.

The ministry also said China’s aircraft carrier Liaoning and six accompanying warships are undertaking military exercises with fighter jets and helicopters in the western Pacific Ocean.

According to the government, the exercises took place about 160 kilometers southwest of the island of Okidaito. It has previously been reported that a Chinese navy flotilla sailed through the Miyako Strait, a crucial gateway into the western Pacific Ocean near Okinawa Prefecture, on Monday.

A J-15 fighter based on a Chinese aircraft carrier took off from Liaoning on Tuesday. Photo: Ministry of Defense of Japan

The flotilla consisted of four guided-missile destroyers, including the Chinese Navy’s state-of-the-art Type 055 ship, a Type 901 fast combat support ship and a guided-missile frigate.

Japan was watching the whole scenario closely. According to to the ministry, the Japanese Air Force dispatched fighter jets, including a Kawasaki P-1 maritime patrol aircraft and a Lockheed P-3 Orion anti-submarine and maritime observation aircraft, in response to the activity of the Chinese Navy.

Lockheed P-3 Orion - Wikipedia
Lockheed P-3 Orion – Wikipedia

Additionally, the Liaoning-led flotilla was guarded by Japanese surveillance planes and the Izumo and her sister ship, the Kaga.

Chinese ships and planes did not cross Japanese territorial waters or airspace. However, at least one warship approached Taisho Island in the Japanese-held Senkaku Islands, which are also claimed by China and known as Diaoyu.

The fleet has been tasked with “conducting realistic combat training in the distant seas of the western Pacific” through regular annual drills, the Chinese defense ministry said. He further added that the deployment was in accordance with international law and not directed against any other party.

Liaoning has not been spotted in the area since December, when it led another flotilla through the Miyako Strait for similar drills involving ship-borne helicopters, fighter jets and other vessels.

In addition, another Liaoning-led flotilla crossed the Miyako Strait in April last year and then carried out military maneuvers near Democratic Taiwan, which Beijing has promised will become “routine”.

Tensions in the region

The latest deployment of the Chinese aircraft carrier strike group coincides with the deployment of the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier strike group to the nearby Philippine Sea.

It also comes just weeks after large-scale PLA Navy and Air Force maneuvers in the East China Sea and Taiwan Strait “in response to recent frequent false signals from the United States. United on the question of Taiwan”. It was unclear whether the ships would visit near Taiwan as part of the latest exercises.

China’s relations with the United States and its ally Japan have soured over their strong support for self-governing Taiwan, especially since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine raised fears of a similar onslaught. across the strait by the PLA.

Izumo
USMC F-35B landing on JS Izumo. Credit: Japanese Ministry of Defense

China views Taiwan as an inalienable part of its territory and a renegade province that must be reintegrated – by force if necessary. His force has carried out dozens of missions in the Taiwan Air Defense Identification Zone, which is separate from sovereign airspace.

Uncertainty about what these measurements are supposed to signal has raised concerns in both Washington and Tokyo, raising the threat of a military miscalculation.

With China-US relations at dangerous levels, these types of military exercises have been particularly troubling, raising fears of a new Cold War engulfing the region.

The 27,000-ton Japanese Izumo is significantly smaller than the 60,000-ton Chinese Liaoning, but is being modified from a destroyer or general-purpose helicopter carrier to a light aircraft carrier to accommodate Lockheed F-35B fighter jet.

The first tests using the jets were conducted Last year. Japan has purchased 40 F-35B fighter jets from the United States for the Izumo and her sister ship, the Kaga.

F-35b-USS America
File Image: Jet F-35

In recent years, the two Japanese carriers have participated in numerous US-led naval exercises in the Indo-Pacific since the region became a focal point of geopolitical rivalry due to China’s rapid naval development. .

Meanwhile, the defense chiefs of Japan and the United States OK on Wednesday to align their security strategies and strengthen cooperation in the Indo-Pacific to prevent any effort to change the status quo by force in the face of China’s growing aggression.

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