China has begun sending its most cutting-edge fighter aircraft, the J-20, to patrol the contested East and South China Sea.

At a news briefing on Tuesday, April 12, Ren Yukun, a senior official from the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) – the J-20’s manufacturer –  stated that these advanced fighter jets are cruising over the East China Sea in preparation for combat. Their training flights over the East and the South China Sea have also become the norm. 

The deployment began in 2019 in the Eastern Theater Command, which encompasses the East China Sea and Taiwan.

In mid-March, General Kenneth Wilsbach, Commander of the US Pacific Air Forces, said that a J-20 contact occurred recently over the East China Sea during US F-35 stealth jet operations. According to the Japanese outlet Yomiuri,  the move shows that China’s military is working to increase its capabilities to prevent U.S. forces from approaching if a contingency breaks out in the Taiwan Strait. 

CNN reported that experts believed the deployment of the J-20s demonstrated two things: China’s greater confidence in its military capabilities and a message to other countries involved in the territorial conflict. 

The East China Sea and the South China Sea have long been contentious areas, with various countries having overlapping territorial claims.

China claims nearly the whole South China Sea as its territory. It has been constructing and militarizing its facilities in the area, converting islands into military bases and airstrips, and allegedly forming a maritime militia with hundreds of boats.

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