China’s PLA Navy (PLAN) was recently seen making forays into volatile and contested waters with its aircraft carriers. These drills have been termed as “routine” by PLAN but are expected to have geostrategic implications due to the acrimony between China and its Indo-Pacific counterparts.

The Chinese aircraft carrier, Liaoning, conducted exercises in the Pacific Ocean, 300 km from the remote Japanese island of Kitadaito (Okinawa Prefecture). This was officially announced on December 21 by the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces.

According to him, the Liaoning, accompanied by five more ships, was sighted in the indicated area on December 19. On the morning of the same day, an exercise was held there with the participation of carrier-based aircraft: J-15 fighters and Z-9 multipurpose helicopters.

In particular, the Japanese department published photos of the takeoff of the J-15 from the deck of an aircraft carrier.

Prior to this, the ships passed between the Japanese islands of Okinawa and Miyako in the direction from the East China Sea to the Pacific Ocean.

Japan, in response to these actions, sent a helicopter carrier Izumo there on a reconnaissance mission and dispatched its fighter jets to escort Chinese the aircraft.

Simultaneously, the PLA Navy’s second aircraft carrier ‘Shandong’ entered the contested South China Sea to conduct realistic combat-oriented drills in an undisclosed location. The drills were reported to include arrested landing of fighter jets, damage control, and maritime search and rescue

In fact, the simultaneous drills conducted with the two aircraft carriers in Chinese inventory have made experts speculate dual-carrier group-led drills to be conducted in the not too distant future.

However, Liaoning drills could be seen as a Chinese message to Japan and its western allies. Japan had recently announced an increase in its defense budget owing to the Chinese threat in the region.

It has also been forthcoming to Taiwan’s defense against China, a proposition that Beijing views as aggression against its One-China policy.

China’s Venture Into Pacific

Last week, the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force spotted a PLA Navy flotilla consisting of four warships, including the aircraft carrier Liaoning, the Type 055 large destroyer Nanchang, the Type 054A frigate Rizhao, and the Type 901 comprehensive supply ship Hulunhu, which then passed through waters between Okinawa Island and Miyako Island and sailed south toward the Pacific Ocean, according to Japan’s Ministry of Defense, as reported by Global Times.

According to the press release issued by Japan, the PLA carrier battle group conducted helicopter takeoff and landing drills from ships in the East China Sea and the Pacific Ocean, as well as fighter jet takeoff and landing operations from ships in the Pacific Ocean.