China’s military says its strategic bombers and new aerial tankers are part of ‘regular’ patrols near Taiwan

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  • H-6K bombers have done “countless” operations near Taiwan in recent years, Chinese air force spokesman says.
  • The remarks came as two US warships sailed through the Taiwan Strait in what the US called a “routine” transit.

The People’s Liberation Army said H-6K bombers and aerial tankers will be part of “regular” patrols near Taiwan, as two US warships sailed through the Taiwan Strait on Sunday.

PLA Air Force spokesman Senior Colonel Shen Jinke said the long-range strategic bombers had carried out “countless” operations near the island in recent years.

“The H-6Ks — along with other fighters, reconnaissance aircraft, early warning aircraft and [aerial] tankers — will continue to fulfil these missions,” Shen told reporters at an air force open day in Changchun, Jilin province on Sunday.

Shen also showed photos of H-6K bombers carrying out patrols over the Bashi Channel, the Miyako Strait, the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait.

He made the remarks as two American warships  the guided-missile cruisers USS Antietam and USS Chancellorsville  were conducting what the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet called “a routine Taiwan Strait transit.”

The PLA Eastern Theatre Command said it was tracking the US Navy vessels, staying on high alert and “ready to thwart any provocation.”

A Chinese Air Force H-6K bomber

A Chinese Air Force H-6K bomber
Xinhua/Guo Wei via Getty Images

It was the first American naval transit through the strait since US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei early this month, angering Beijing and prompting large-scale PLA exercises around the island.

Beijing sees the self-governed island as part of its territory and has never ruled out the use of force to take control of it. Most countries, including the US, do not recognise Taiwan as a sovereign state, but Western governments are opposed to any attempt to take the island by force.

Mainland China has ramped up pressure on Taiwan in recent years, with the island’s defence ministry reporting frequent sorties by PLA aircraft — including H-6Ks — into its air defence identification zone in recent years.

With a combat range of more than 3,500km (2,200 miles), the H-6K is designed to carry long-range CJ-20 cruise missiles for attacks on land and sea targets as well as short-range missiles like the KD-63.

Sunday’s air force open day was held alongside the Changchun Air Show in the northeastern city, where the YU-20 aerial tanker — the refuelling variant of the Y-20 transport aircraft — made its public debut.

Shen said last month that the YU-20 was being used in combat-readiness training and would improve the long-range operational capabilities of other PLA warplanes — the first official announcement that the aerial tanker was taking part in drills. It was spotted on a PLA patrol near Taiwan for the first time in November.

Shen also said patrols by “multiple types” of warplanes around Taiwan had improved the PLA’s ability to safeguard China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.