September 2016 – BEIJING – A flurry of fresh military exercises is highlighting rising tensions in the Asia Pacific, with China and Russia today joining forces to practice seizing islands and hunting submarines. But Beijing also took the opportunity to send a message to the United States: It’s mid-Pacific island fortress of Guam is now also within the reach of Chinese forces. A ‘rapid deployment’ exercise yesterday saw bombers, fighters and supporting aircraft surge past the Philippines and Taiwan and deep into the west Pacific. China’s military has stated such ‘blue water’ exercises will ‘be normalized’ as part of future weapons testing and training programs.
But the United States appears to be responding in kind: News reports out of India state Washington and New Delhi will soon be engaging in joint army exercises barely 100km from India’s border with China. Beijing has laid claim to the bulk of the South China Sea, despite competing claims from adjoining nations including Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. It has also been aggressively promoting a “One Belt, One Road” initiative which essentially sees the restoration of ancient “Silk Road” trade routes with the Middle East via Pakistan and the Indian Ocean.
“From September 11 through to September 19, the ship crew will take part in the Joint Sea 2016 war-games of the Chinese Naval Force that will be held on the coast and in the water area of the South China Sea,” TASS reported a naval press officer as saying. Activities are said to include “anti-subversion,, antisubmarine, anti-aircraft, and anti-ship defense and have done preparatory artillery firing at aerial and sea-based targets.” Russia has backed Beijing’s recent rejection of an international court of arbitration ruling which found its claims to have historical rights to several contested shoals and reefs as false.
Beijing’s flexing of military muscles is not being limited to the naval exercises with Russia, however. On Monday it sent a flight of H6K nuclear-capable bombers and Su-30MKK fighters through the channel between the Philippines and Taiwan and deep into the western Pacific. A Chinese news agency has reported a Chinese Air Force colonel as saying the formation of fighters, bombers, tanker and AWACS aircraft passed through the Bashi Channel for ‘blue water’ training “to enhance the ability to safeguard national sovereignty, to defend national security, peace and development.” It’s a clear demonstration of Beijing’s growing military reach and influence extending beyond the so-called ‘nine-dash line’ of the South and East China Seas and into a ‘second chain’ of islands including Japan, Guam and Palau. The United States maintains a major naval and air force facility on Guam, including detachments of B-52 and B-1 strategic bombers. –News