• The Liaoning strike group is conducting drills to the east of Taiwan
  • It was spotted operating ship-borne J-15 fighters and Z-18 choppers 
  • The PLA drills were monitored by the Japanese Self-Defense Forces 

The People's Liberation Army (PLA) has ramped up military drills near Taiwan, leaving the Indo-Pacific on the boil. While PLA's Liaoning Carrier Strike Group intensified its exercises in the east of Taiwan, 18 Chinese aircraft buzzed into the island's Air Defense Identification Zone on Saturday.

According to Taiwan's Ministry Of Defense, 18 PLA aircraft entered the island’s ADIZ in the Taiwan Strait and southeast of the island Saturday, reported South China Morning Post. The Taiwanese air force had to scramble fighters and track the incoming plane with air defense missiles.

The claim was backed by the Chinese state-backed Global Times, which boasted that the PLA sent aircraft to Taiwan and additional warships to the west of the island "effectively surrounding and enclosing the island under the watch of U.S. and Japanese aircraft carriers."

The Beijing-based media added that the region where the Liaoning strike group is currently conducting drills is a "vital place to stop potential external interference in event of a reunification-by-force operation in the Taiwan Straits."

Global Times also quoted analysts to highlight the significance of the region. "The Philippine Sea where the Liaoning carrier group is holding drills is a vital sea region should a reunification-by-force operation take place," Shi Hong, executive chief editor of Chinese mainland magazine Shipborne Weapons, told the outlet.

He added that by moving in tandem with aerial and maritime forces from China, the carrier group could completely cut off the routes foreign forces may take if they militarily interfere with Taiwan.

The Liaoning was later photographed operating its ship-borne J-15 fighters and Z-18 helicopters and was reportedly sailing slowly closer to the island of Taiwan as its drills went on.

However, the PLA aircraft carrier strike group isn't alone in the region. Besides the Japanese Self-Defense Forces, which constantly monitor the PLA fleet, the Philippine Sea also is marked by the presence of the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group.

But, China took a dig at the presence of the Japanese and U.S. forces, calling them "perfect practice partners for the PLA drills." "They are the most realistic practice partners for the PLA because they could be the real opponents the PLA one day might have to face in the region," Global Times quoted Shi. He added that their presence could "serve as excellent grindstones that can help enhance the combat capabilities of the Liaoning carrier group."

This comes as reports claim Beijing could use force against Taiwan, especially since global attention is now focused on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Liaoning aircraft carrier in South China Sea
Representational image REUTERS/Stringer