South China Sea: US military on alert after Beijing’s bombing drills simulate war clashes

(Express) – In a show of force against the US and its allies, the Chinese military is conducting a nine-day live-fire training exercise in the disputed South China Sea. The “live-fire target attack drills” comes amid heightened military tensions with the US.

On Saturday, the air force of People’s Liberation Army Southern Theatre Command released footage of warplanes – JH-7 fighter bombers – bombing naval vessel targets.

The week-long drills will include a range of anti-ship and anti-aircraft exercises.

The training appears to be a response to the US decision to deploy two of its best aircraft carriers and their strike groups comprising more battleships in the South China Sea earlier this month.

This deployment was joined by flying reconnaissance aircraft in the region.

The location of the drills – near the South China Sea – is also seen as a rebuke to the US and Australia’s rejection of China’s territorial and maritime claims.

On Friday, Australia told the United Nations that China’s claims in the South China Sea had “no legal basis”.

Large parts of the South China Sea are also claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan.

Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert, told the nationalistic and state-run Global Times tabloid said that while these live-fire drills were routine exercises, this deployment was different.

Mr Song said the exercises could also be seen as an effort by the People’s Liberation Army to step up its combat readiness in response to the increasing surveillance activities by the US.

The military expert said: “As the US has stepped up its close surveillance of China and the possibility of an accident is on the rise, the PLA needs to make timely preparations.”

Mr Song added that maritime live-fire drills by the air force usually include shooting aircraft and surface vessels.

He said: “Such drills could train to secure air superiority and target hostile warships in the South China Sea.”

The move follows China’s earler decision to send more fighter jets to one of its bases in the South China Sea.

Tensions around the territories have steadily increased in recent years, with several confrontations taking place.

In recent years, China has built significant military infrastructure on the artificial islands in the sea although it insists its intentions are peaceful.

Relations between China and the US have also deteriorated recently over issues including Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, its actions in Hong Kong and its treatment of Muslim minorities.

Earlier this week, the US ordered the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston, Texas, with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accusing China of “stealing” intellectual property.

China ordered the closure of the US consulate in Chengdu in response.