With American aircraft carriers paralysed, China's Liaoning leads drills around Taiwan

Contrary to popular belief that military forces might keep a low profile during the global health pandemic, Zaobao correspondent Yu Zeyuan assesses that the PLA will continue training in the waters and airspace around Taiwan to prevent the latter from making any rash moves. Military commentator Song Zhongping says China has the upper hand in this area.
In this file photo taken on 24 September 2019, visitors hold their mobile phones in front of exhibits showing the People's Liberation Army Navy's first aircraft carrier Liaoning, during an exhibition on China's achievements marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China at the Beijing Exhibition Center, in Beijing, China. (Jason Lee/File Photo/Reuters)
In this file photo taken on 24 September 2019, visitors hold their mobile phones in front of exhibits showing the People's Liberation Army Navy's first aircraft carrier Liaoning, during an exhibition on China's achievements marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China at the Beijing Exhibition Center, in Beijing, China. (Jason Lee/File Photo/Reuters)

A Chinese naval flotilla led by aircraft carrier Liaoning passed through the Miyako Strait and into the Pacific Ocean on 10 April. Chinese Navy spokesperson Gao Xiucheng said on 13 April that the cross-regional mobilisation that saw the flotilla passing through the Miyako Strait and Bashi Channel and entering the South China Sea for exercises is a routine arrangement that is part of an annual plan. 

...the Liaoning contingent’s ability to be the only carrier group on the west Pacific Ocean demonstrates that the Chinese military has not been badly affected by the pandemic.

Chinese military commentator Song Zhongping told Lianhe Zaobao yesterday (13 Apr) that Liaoning’s mobilisation is part of combat training to seize air and sea supremacy in the eastern waters of Taiwan. This training not only seeks to deter separatist forces and foreign military forces, but also serves as preparation for a possible Taiwan Strait war. 

Other experts point out that at a time when four American aircraft carriers are effectively paralysed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Liaoning contingent’s ability to be the only carrier group on the west Pacific Ocean demonstrates that the Chinese military has not been badly affected by the pandemic. When the need arises, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) still has the capabilities to cope with various unexpected challenges.  

In accordance with international law and conventional practice

A statement released by Japan’s defence ministry on 11 April said that on 10 April at 7pm local time, six warships comprising the Liaoning aircraft carrier, two Type 052D Luyang III-class destroyer Xining and Guiyang, two Type 054A Jiangkai II-class frigates Zaozhuang and one Type 901-class fast replenishment ship Hulunhu were spotted travelling southeast from international waters 420km away from the southwest of Nagasaki’s Danjo Islands, crossing into the Miyako Strait and into the Pacific Ocean.  

In this file photo taken on 23 April 2019, the Chinese Navy’s aircraft carrier Liaoning takes part in a naval parade off the eastern port city of Qingdao, to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy. (Jason Lee/File Photo/Reuters)
In this file photo taken on 23 April 2019, the Chinese Navy’s aircraft carrier Liaoning takes part in a naval parade off the eastern port city of Qingdao, to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy. (Jason Lee/File Photo/Reuters)

Yesterday, the military branch of China National Radio (a Chinese state media), quoted Gao as saying that the carrier group’s mobilisation and drills were in line with international law and conventional practice. The Chinese Navy would continue to organise similar exercises as planned to accelerate the combat capabilities of its aircraft carrier systems.     

Should mainland China’s aircraft carrier conduct combat operations in the Western Pacific Ocean near Taiwan, it would receive strong cooperation and support from its local aviation and rocket force, effectively deterring any form of foreign military intervention. 

Song predicts that the Liaoning would mainly practise combat drills such as the takeoff and landings of its fighter jets, and air defence and anti-submarine warfare. PLA Navy and Air Force training involving warships such as the Liaoning aircraft carrier in the eastern Taiwan region has become a common sight that shows no sign of letting up amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Such training is conducted with the goal of preventing separatist forces from taking risks and foreign powers from directly intervening in Taiwan affairs.     

Song believes that although China only has two combat-ready aircraft carriers presently and there is still a big gap between its combat capabilities and that of the US’s and its massive aircraft carrier fleet, mainland China’s local military base is in close proximity to Taiwan’s eastern waters. Should mainland China’s aircraft carrier conduct combat operations in the Western Pacific Ocean near Taiwan, it would receive strong cooperation and support from its local aviation and rocket force, effectively deterring any form of foreign military intervention.   

...it is highly possible that another Type 093 nuclear-powered attack submarine independently developed by China was also mobilised underwater.   

In this file photo taken on 22 September 2019, planes from the Chinese PLA air force fly during a rehearsal of the military parade on 1 October to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, in Beijing, China. (Jason Lee/File Photo/Reuters)
In this file photo taken on 22 September 2019, planes from the Chinese PLA air force fly during a rehearsal of the military parade on 1 October to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, in Beijing, China. (Jason Lee/File Photo/Reuters)

According to an article published by official WeChat account “Military commentator Chen Guangwen” (军评陈光文) on 12 April, apart from the six warships mobilised in the recent operations above water, it is highly possible that another Type 093 nuclear-powered attack submarine independently developed by China was also mobilised underwater.   

The article suggested that the Liaoning mobilisation was carried out in tandem with the mobilisation of various military planes including H-6 bombers, KJ-500 early warning aircraft, and J-11 jet fighters over the Pacific Ocean, in a harsh warning against Taiwan’s “crooked forces” that are trying to discredit China.

According to reports from various Taiwan media including the Central News Agency on 10 April, Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense said that mainland China’s H-6 bombers, KJ-500 early warning aircraft, and J-11 jet fighters entered the Bashi Channel and into the Western Pacific Ocean that morning in a long-distance training session at Taiwan’s southwest waters, before returning to their bases via the same route. This is the sixth time this year that military aircraft of the PLA have appeared in the waters near Taiwan.  

Related: Why is Beijing flexing its military muscle over Taiwan airspace amidst the novel coronavirus crisis? | Mainland China and Taiwan: Game of push and pull continues amid the Covid-19 epidemic | Arm wrestling in silence: China-US military scorecard under the shadow of the pandemic