China has for the first time landed several bombers on an island in the disputed South China Sea, a move that could provoke renewed tensions between countries bordering the strategically vital maritime region.
China for the first time landed bomber aircraft, including H-6Ks, on Woody Island in the #SouthChinaSea. AMTI shows the bombers' range, why it matters, and the likelihood of more showing up on the Spratlys https://t.co/D2exYqXSnV pic.twitter.com/ZlT5LhMeW5
— AMTI (@AsiaMTI) May 18, 2018
Several bombers of various types including the long-range, nuclear strike capable H-6K — carried out landing and take off drills at an unidentified island airfield after carrying out simulated strike training on targets at sea, the Chinese airforce said in a statement Friday.
China sent several advanced H-6K bombers from an undisclosed air base in southern China for “a simulated strike against sea targets before landing on an island in the South China Sea,” an air force statement published on the Defense Ministry’s website said late Friday.
Chinese bomber H-6k touch and go landing drill on Woody Island, the largest of the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. pic.twitter.com/jcNQat349o
— Carl Zha (@CarlZha) May 18, 2018
The statement did not say where the landing drills took place, but experts confirmed that the bombers had conducted the exercises on Woody Island — China’s largest base in the Paracel chain in the South China Sea — and not the airfields it has built on reclaimed land in the disputed Spratly chain further south.
The division involved in the exercise has taken part in earlier patrols over the western Pacific Ocean and South China Sea, the statement added.
The People's Liberation Army Air Force landed its H-6K bomber aircraft on an airport in the South China Sea during a recent exercise, marking the first time Chinese bombers have used an airport in the region. https://t.co/nOP5MOro1x pic.twitter.com/GznmbPGzyP
— China News 中国新闻网 (@Echinanews) May 19, 2018
The South China Sea issue has been brewing for years, with China, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam making competing claims in waters with vital global shipping routes and what are believed to be significant oil and natural gas deposits.
China has engaged in years of land-reclamation efforts on reefs it controls in the region and built both civilian and military facilities in the contested area. Chinese military facilities include air bases, radar and communications.
(Note: Pictures used for representation purpose only)