China reacts to joint drill with its own exercise
Heightened tension between the Koreas after the sinking of a naval vessel in March is now being matched by rising friction between China and the U.S.
China Central Television reported Tuesday that the People’s Liberation Army conducted its largest ever missile firing exercise near the Yellow Sea on Sunday. CCTV said the Nanjing Military Region artillery forces conducted a comprehensive drill involving surface-to-air missiles, unmanned reconnaissance aircraft and radar.
The broadcaster said that the large-scale, long-range rocket drill was a response to the U.S. for the joint drill with South Korea that started on Sunday and ended yesterday.
The South Korea-U.S. drill, code-named “Invincible Spirit,” was meant to punish North Korea for the sinking of the Cheonan and warn it against further attacks. It was relocated to the sea off the east coast of the peninsula from its original venue off the west coast to assuage China.
Even after it was moved, the size and intensity of the drill alone were still enough to pressure China to react, military experts said.
The drill was the largest ever for the two allies since the end of the Korean War, and 20 warships, including the nuclear-powered U.S. aircraft carrier U.S.S. George Washington, 200 aircraft and 8,000 servicemen from the two countries were mobilized.
In particular, four F-22 Raptor stealth fighters, the most advanced jet fighters in the world, made their debut over Korean skies. The U.S. claims the aircraft can strike the North’s nuclear facility site at Yongbyon within 30 minutes after takeoff.
According to a Hong Kong newspaper, China allegedly responded to that demonstration with its own impressive air drill. Ming Pao, a Chinese-language daily, reported on Tuesday that around 100 state-of-the-art jet fighters of the People’s Liberation Army were mobilized for a 40-minute air drill over Qingdao on Monday.
South Korean government officials denied the Ming Pao report.
Experts said tension between the U.S. and China could deepen as more South Korea-U.S. military drills proceed. Seoul and Washington plan around 10 more within this year.
Choi Jin-wook, a researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification, said the Cheonan incident has made a long-feared U.S.-China military confrontation more possible.
“China, bidding to increase its influence over the U.S., appears to have taken out its claws over the Cheonan incident,” said Choi.
Sun Zhe, an international relations professor at China’s Tsinghua University, called it a “new crisis” between the U.S. and China.
“The competition between China and the U.S. is going to be long-term and comprehensive,” Sun told Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg agreed, saying the U.S. should extend military ties with China to defuse tensions in Asia on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the South Korean government described Invincible Spirit as a success, saying it sent a clear warning to the North against any future provocations.
North Korea has shown no military reaction during the drill, despite its vow before the drill began to make a “sacred war.”
By Moon Gwang-lip [firstname.lastname@example.org]