China’s Global Times newspaper said on Sunday that the Chinese military had commenced its annual spring drills in the South China Sea and the Western Pacific.

The exercises, which began about a day after a US destroyer engaged in a freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) near an artificial island controlled by China, included aerial training in the Western Pacific and a combat naval patrol in the South China Sea.

The air force portion included H-6K bombers and Su-30 and Su-35 fighters, according to PLA Air Force spokesman Shen Jinke. The warships involved are believed to include the aircraft carrier Liaoning – though the Global Times didn’t mention the flattop or identify the ships in the maneuvers.

The PLA Air Force said on its Weibo account on Sunday that the drills were designed to enhance the troops’ combat-winning capabilities in the new era.

China Central Television quoted the PLA Navy as saying the drills were routine and did not target any country.

“The South China Sea and East China Sea will be primary battlegrounds. The PLA is committed to be battle-ready through simulated combat training,” Song Zhongping, a military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times on Sunday.

Earlier reports of carrier

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said last week that it had followed a Chinese aircraft carrier group as it passed through the Taiwan Strait in a southwesterly direction – toward the disputed South China Sea in what was believed to be a drill.

The Chinese military drills kicked off about a day after the USS Mustin came within 12 nautical miles of Meiji (aka Mischief) Reef in the Nansha (aka Spratly) Islands in the South China Sea. China has termed the incident a political and military provocation.