Notwithstanding the ongoing war in Ukraine, Moscow and Beijing are keeping up the pressure on U.S. allies in the Asia-Pacific. On Wednesday morning, Russian Tupolev-95 long-range bombers and Chinese H-6 bombers, along with Russian Su-35 fighters, carried out joint patrols over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea following which Japan and South Korea scrambled their fighter jets.
The flights are the latest in a series of such challenges the two authoritarian countries, which have drawn closer amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, have thrown at U.S. allies in the Asia-Pacific region. The flights serve to show that the Russian military, despite the reverses in Ukraine and the crippling economic sanctions by the West, is still capable of keeping the hot spot elsewhere in the globe on the boil. And for China’s PLA, it adds valuable experience and helps keep the militaries of U.S. allies in the region on their toes.
Japan’s ministry of defense confirmed that two Chinese H-6 bombers flew in from the East China Sea through the Tsushima Strait into the Sea of Japan before heading north. While around the same time, two Russian aircraft reportedly flew south before turning back and heading north, a report by USNI News said.
Responding to the joint patrol by Russian and PLA aircraft, the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) scrambled its fighter aircraft, the report said.
Meanwhile, a report by South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency said that two Chinese and six Russian warplanes entered South Korea’s air defense identification zone (KADIZ) without notice Wednesday.
The two Chinese H-6 bombers entered and exited the KADIZ twice before reentering along with the four Russian Tu-95 bombers and two Russian Su-35 fighters. Responding to the incident, South Korea scrambled its own military aircraft, including F-15K jets. However, the Yonhap report added that the Chinese and Russian warplanes that flew across the KADIZ did not violate South Korea’s territorial airspace.
A related report in the South China Morning Post (SCMP) citing the Russian defense ministry confirmed the warplanes conducted joint patrols over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea.
“An air group consisting of Tu-95MC strategic missile carriers of the Russian Aerospace Forces and strategic bombers XIAN H-6K of the PLA Air Force carried out air patrols over the waters of the Japanese and East China Seas,” the SCMP report quoted the Russian defense ministry as saying.
Reporting about the joint patrol by the Russian and PLA air force, Chinese state media Global Times said that for the first time during patrols, Russian aircraft landed at an airfield in China, and Chinese aircraft landed on the territory of Russia.
The Global Times added that this is the fifth such joint aerial patrol being carried out by both countries. A similar patrol was reported on May 24 when China and Russia flew six strategic bombers over waters near Japan on a day when U.S. President Joe Biden was meeting with Australian, Indian and Japanese counterparts in Tokyo as part of the QUAD summit.
China and Russia have previously said their warplanes were conducting regular joint exercises. Moscow does not recognize Korea’s air defense zone. Beijing said the zone is not territorial airspace and all countries should enjoy the freedom of movement there.
In August, Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff reported Russian warplanes entering the KADIZ, three months after Chinese and Russian aircraft made an incursion in May that was the first after South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol took office, according to a Reuters report.
As part of their effort to intensify strategic partnerships, the navies of China and Russia carried out a joint naval patrol in the Pacific Ocean in September.
In 2019, South Korean warplanes fired hundreds of warning shots toward Russian military aircraft when they entered the KADIZ during a joint air patrol with China.