Things are getting crowded in the airspace about North Korea, Taiwan, Okinawa and the South China Sea.

Beijing's been surging its combat aircraft into contested areas in a major demonstration of its strength - and as a warning to the United States and its Asian allies.

Beijing is being coy about exactly when and where it staged its demonstrations, choosing to reveal it had sent warplanes through "routes and areas it has never flown before" on the same day the US and South Korea launched large scale mock airstrikes involving 230 aircraft.

North Korea criticised the show of force, stating US President Donald Trump was "begging for nuclear war".

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Beijing, it appears, is thinking along similar lines. "The timing of this high-profile announcement by the PLA is also a warning to Washington and Seoul not to provoke Pyongyang any further," Beijing military analyst Li Jie reportedly told state media.

CHINA STEPS FORWARD

Chinese media has broadcast several significant movements of Chinese air force units in recent weeks, including a redistribution of squadrons along coastal regions – including the controversial Woody Island airfield in the Parcel Islands.

These came even as Pyongyang successfully launched its biggest, and longest-ranged, experimental intercontinental ballistic missile yet.

Beijing says its exercise included the use of reconnaissance and AWACS radar control aircraft working with strike fighters. It included the rapid redeployment of PLAAF aircraft from deep within China to coastal districts before flying far out to sea.

The operations were in and around Beijing's self-declared air defence identification zone over the East China and Yellow Seas. Arbitrarily announced in 2011, this includes vast tracts of international airspace and waters claimed as sovereign by Japan and South Korea.

Emboldened by its rapidly expanding and modernising military, and its success in simply pushing its way into the South China Sea through the construction of illegal artificial fortress islands, People's Liberation Army Air Force spokesman Shen Jinke declared this kind of training in the East China Sea would become a regular occurrence.

RUSSIA MAKES A MOVE

Two Russian strategic bombers along with two heavy airlifters carrying 81 military and support personnel have made the long flight across East Asia to visit the Indonesian state of Biak, Papua, to Australia's north.

The Ilyushin-76 airlifters arrived at Frans Kaisiepo Airport on Monday and Tuesday. They were followed by two Tupelov Tu-95 bombers which were refuelled by tanker aircraft while crossing the Pacific Ocean.

Russia's Ministry of Defence says the force is there for "navigation exercises".

"They will only stay in Biak. They won't go anywhere else," Manuhua Biak Airport spokesperson First Lieutenant Putukade Wempy told the Jakarta Post yesterday.

The Russians are expected to stay until Saturday.

"The planes fly directly from Russia for 12 hours, and this will be the first time they have flown near the equator," said Manuhua Biak Air commander Colonel Fajar Adriyanto. "They usually fly in temperatures of minus 37C, now they will fly in plus 37C. So it will really be a 100 per cent change."

Colonel Fajar said the Russian warplanes were not armed as their exercises would only involve long-distance flying over the Pacific.

"The exercises have no other purpose. Their arrival will also promote Biak as a tourist destination," Colonel Fajar said.

The move appeared time to co-oincide with the recent deployment ot Australia of two US B-1B Lancer strategic bombers.

HIGH-PROFILE STEALTH

China's moves may be an attempt to up-stage large scale manoeuvres by the United States and Korea, involving an unprecedented 24 stealth F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning fighters earlier this week.

Along with 220 conventional combat aircraft, the combined forces simulated their ability to ' surgically strike' mobile launchers, command posts and military facilities as part of operation Vigilant Ace. It coincided with manoeuvres involving 12,000 sailors, marines and troops and involved some 700 mock targets designed to emulate key North Korean infrastructure.

The wargames were a clear signal to Kim Jong-un's North Korea that the West is willing and able to strike its controversial nuclear facilities.

It was a message not lost on Pyonyang.

The US was "staging an ultra-precision strike drill with high intensity just like in a real war focused on 'removing' the DPRK's state leadership and core facilities by massively introducing the ultramodern stealth fighters," North Korea's state media said.

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