In what could trigger new fears of World War III, China responded this week to heightened tensions over the North Korea situation by placing the Chinese Air Force bomber fleet on what United States officials describe as a heightened alert, a stance that will give China a greater ability to wage an aerial attack against its reclusive neighboring country to the east, according to a CNN report citing Pentagon sources.
Not only have the bombers, capable of firing cruise missiles, been placed on what the report described as "high alert," but an "extraordinary number" of Chinese military aircraft have been "brought up to full readiness as part of a military posture adjustment to increase its ability to respond," the CNN report described.
A defense official also told ABC News that the new high alert status would cut down on the time required for Chinese military aircraft to reach North Korea, to stage what could be a massive bombing raid and that the alert involved an "unusual" number of Chinese military planed at seven airfields spread across the Chinese mainland.
At the same time, another official indicated to ABC that because the airfields were not concentrated in the east near the border with North Korea, the heightened alert status could simply mean that the Chinese air force is now preparing for some sort of large-scale military exercise.
Donald Trump met with Chinese President Xi Jinping last week, and in a press conference on Thursday, Trump said that Xi indicated he will work "very, very hard," according to Trump, to address the North Korean situation.
Trump also said at the press conference Thursday that the Chinese military had made "some very unusual moves... over the last two or three hours."
Whether Trump was referring to the high alert status of the Chinese air force, however, was not made clear.
The Chinese government has maintained publicly that the North Korea situation — including the potential nuclear threat from the rogue nation — must be managed through diplomacy and negotiation rather than through military force.
There have reportedly been no mentions in the Chinese media — which is broadly controlled by the country's central government — of any changes in status for the China air force, or military in general, even in light of heightened tensions and World War III fears surrounding North Korea over recent weeks.
After Trump stated that the North Korean situation would be "taken care of," and the United States dispatched several warships to the Korean peninsula, the North Korean government of strongman Kim Jong-un issued a statement this week threatening a "super mighty" attack on both South Korea and the United States that would "reduce" the military forces of both countries "to ashes."
China is believed to be reluctant to intervene militarily against North Korea, because if the North Korean government were to fall, a likely reunification of North and South Korea would place a powerful ally of the United States, armed with U.S. troops and weaponry, directly on China's eastern border.
In fact, China appeared to deny the CNN report of a heightened alert, issuing a statement through the Chinese Defense Ministry.
"The Chinese military at the China-North Korea border is maintaining a normal level of combat readiness and training," the statement said, as quoted in the CNN report. But the statement made no mention of an air force high alert at other locations inside of China.
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