Passengers look at an electronic board showing most flights delayed or canceled at Xiaoshan Airport in Hangzhou, East China's Zhejiang Province on Saturday. The civil aviation authority issued alerts indicating widespread flight delays in major cities over the weekend. Rainy storms hit many cities across China, according to the Xinhua News Agency. Photo: CFP
The People's Liberation Army (PLA) has launched a series of exercises of a rare breadth and scale in advance of this year's Army Day on August 1, as the Chinese military moves to hone its craft in simulating battles to prepare for potential challenges in a more convoluted international situation.
The Ministry of National Defense announced on Sunday that a military exercise will be conducted off China's southeast coast in the East China Sea starting July 29.
Although the ministry said the maneuver with troops is part of the military's routine training, the exercise adds to several other military drills that are currently being carried out on land, at sea and in the skies.
According to the website of the Maritime Safety Administration, the PLA has sent out warnings forbidding fishing vessels to enter certain waters in China's Bohai Sea and the Yellow Sea for seven days starting Friday as a "military mission" is being carried out in the area. The PLA was also scheduled to conduct live fire training in the South China Sea's Beibu Gulf from Saturday to August 1.
The newly announced military drill means that, in a rare situation, the PLA would be conducting exercises in all four seas at the same time, analysts say.
"The scale of this year's routine military exercises is the largest over the past few years, and their breadth and depth are also impressive," Liu Jiangping, a professor with Beihang University and a navy expert, told the Global Times.
The maritime exercises came at roughly the same time as the Civil Aviation Administration of China said last week that stormy weather and regular military exercises will cause "widespread delays" at 12 busy airports in East China, including Shanghai, Nanjing, Wuhan, Zhengzhou and Qingdao.
The impact on civilian flights was played down on Sunday by the Ministry of National Defense, which said that military drills are not a major factor behind flight delays.
"The weather played a major role in causing the delays," the ministry stated on its website.
It added that "conducting aerial maneuvers is a necessary measure to enhance China's air defense capabilities and has received widespread support from all aspects of society."
Another land-based military exercise, dubbed Huoli-2014, involving 20,000 military personnel from five Military Area Commands, multiple training bases and PLA Nanjing Artillery Academy, started in late June and was scheduled to last for three months.
A separate two-month exercise, named Kuayue-2014 Zhurihe, kicked off in June in North China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
"The exercises this year have shown new characteristics. They are more combat-oriented, with more specific training purposes, last longer and demand more cooperation between various units," Liu said, adding that the change was at the request of Chinese President and Chairman of Central Military Commission Xi Jinping, who said last year that the PLA must be able to fight in a war and be able to ensure victory.
The recent intensive military exercises coincided with the joint military exercise held by the US, India and Japan, off Japan's southern coast from July 25 to 30, a move seen by some analysts as a tactic to contain China.
"Although the joint drill does not openly point at China, exercises like this add to pressures in our national security," said Yin Zhuo, a military expert from the Chinese Navy Advisory Committee for Informatization. "China should not act recklessly in such situations. The best way to respond is to strengthen our own military training."
Some media connected the exercises with Friday's 120th anniversary of China's defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895), which played a role in the collapse of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and the rise of Japan as an Asian power.
The anniversary prompted much reflection as tensions between China and Japan escalated in the past two years over the Diaoyu Islands.
However, Zhang Junshe, a research fellow with the Chinese Naval Research Institute, insisted the ongoing military drills are just routine exercises as plans are made on a yearly basis.
He said the main purpose of these drills is to enhance the PLA's combat capabilities to prevent the tragedies such as the First Sino-Japanese War from repeating itself.
"We must be able to fight a war to stop a war," he told the Global Times.
Since July, a major adjustment of personnel has taken place within seven major Military Area Commands, promoting dozens of senior officials in PLA who possess battle and command experience.