A Xian H-6K bomber landing at Zhuhai Jinwan airport ahead of Airshow China 2018. Photo by Alert5 via Wikimedia Commons.
Chinese and Russian warplanes entered South Korea’s air defense zone on Wednesday, Nov. 30, spurring Seoul to scramble fighter jets. The encounter highlighted a trend of increasingly aggressive Chinese military behavior in the region, as well as the tightening military ties between Beijing and Moscow.
The aircraft involved in Wednesday's incursion included four Russian Tu-95 bombers and two Russian Su-35 fighters, which joined two Chinese H-6 bombers, the Seoul-based news outlet Yonhap reported. The formation spent 18 minutes within South Korea’s air defense zone, or KADIZ, entering at 12:18 p.m. and exiting at 12:36 p.m., according to news reports.
Earlier in the morning, two Chinese H-6 bombers had twice entered South Korea’s KADIZ from different directions. Some five hours later, South Korea reportedly scrambled F-15K fighters to intercept the combined Russian-Chinese formation.
A Russian Tu-95 Bear 'H' photographed from a RAF Typhoon Quick Reaction Alert aircraft (QRA) with 6 Squadron from RAF Leuchars in Scotland on April 23, 2014. Photo by Royal Air Force via Wikimedia Commons.
"Our military dispatched air force fighter jets ahead of the Chinese and Russian aircraft's entry of the KADIZ to implement tactical measures in preparation for a potential contingency," South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, or JCS, said in a statement, Reuters reported. The JCS added that the Chinese and Russian warplanes did not cross into South Korea's internationally recognized airspace.
An air defense zone is the boundary past which a country requires inbound aircraft to identify themselves. Unlike airspace limits, international law does not define the boundaries of air defense zones. Russia does not recognize South Korea’s air defense zone.
Russian and Chinese air operations also spurred Japan to scramble fighters on Wednesday, according to a press release by Japan’s defense ministry.
A Tuesday Department of Defense report warned of increased Chinese military action in the Indo-Pacific region. China "presents the most consequential and systemic challenge to U.S. national security and the free and open international system,” stated the annual report, titled the "Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China.”
Apart from China’s more aggressive military operations, the report also warned that China could nearly quadruple the size of its nuclear arsenal by 2035, growing from 400 warheads to some 1,500. The reported added that China is increasingly relying on its military might "as an instrument of statecraft as it adopted more coercive and aggressive actions in the Indo-Pacific region."
Wednesday's combined air operations comes amid extraordinary anti-government protests in China, as well as the deadly grind of Russia’s ongoing, full-scale war against Ukraine. Increasingly isolated by Western sanctions, Russia has become more economically reliant on China this year. China, for its part, has largely stood by Russia, viewing Moscow as a partner in resisting Western influence and power.
According to Tuesday's Pentagon report: "As the [People's Republic of China] seeks to achieve 'national rejuvenation' by its centenary in 2049, this report highlights Beijing's ambition to reform the prevailing international rules-based system."
After invading Ukraine this year, Russia has also forged closer ties with North Korea. US officials have repeatedly said that North Korea is supplying Russia with artillery shells, feeding the demand of Russian forces, which depended on massive artillery barrages to inch ahead in eastern Ukraine over the summer.
"The information we have is that the DPRK is covertly supplying Russia with a significant number of artillery shells," Pentagon spokesman, Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, said during a Nov. 8 press briefing.
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