CHINESE jets have rehearsed bombing raids on Guam, according the US military – which now rates Beijing a bigger threat than North Korea.
China’s fleet of fighters and bombers conduct a daily “aggressive campaign” of sorties close to the US Pacific territory and incursions into Japanese air space.
The news comes as the US and Russia each sent nuclear bombers near North Korea amid rising tensions with tyrant Kim Jong-un.
But top brass are said to fear the real threat in the region is from China, which has been testing air defences in hundreds of provocative flights over the East China Sea, South China Sea and out over the Pacific.
Chinese H-6K Badger bombers run “not infrequent” flights around Guam – close enough to launch cruise missiles at the US territory.
Military officials said China is “practising attacks on Guam,” reports Defence News.
The bombers are also flying around Hawaii, officials said.
Meanwhile Japan has scrambled 900 sorties in the last year to intercept Chinese fighters including the J-11 Flanker challenging Japan’s Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ).
US officials said in a briefing on the Pacific region: “We now have, on a daily basis, armed Chinese Flankers and Japanese aircraft” coming in close proximity.
And it is now “very common” for China’s air force to intercept US jets.
The aerial cat-and-mouse games come after Beijing’s aggressive military build-up on a string of man-made islands in the disputed South China Sea, seen as an effort to extend its power across the region.
In 2013 China announced borders for its own ADIZ that overlapped Japan’s zone and included the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which are also claimed by Japan.
Since then, increased interactions between the countries’ aircraft led Japan to relocate two fighter squadrons to Naha Air Base on Okinawa to more easily meet the incursions, the officials said.
Analysts believe the threat is growing. While the US is certain a war with North Korea is “a fight we can win,” China is a different kind of problem and they “worry about the way things are going.”
General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that China “is very much the long-term challenge in the region.”
He said: “When we look at the capabilities China is developing, we’ve got to make sure we maintain the ability to meet our alliance commitments in the Pacific.”
President Donald Trump will visit the Pacific region later this week, making stops in Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines.
Mr Trump has previously said he would not allow China to take over the South China Sea, and experts say the president would be ready to take on Beijing in armed conflict if necessary.
But other analysts warn conflict in the disputed region could spark World War Three.
Satellite photos show how China has built up seven islands, using dredgers to create land on uninhabited atolls and installing military hardware including gun turrets, launch pads and anti-missile systems.
Trump stoked tensions by accepting a phone call from Taiwanese Prime Minister Tsai-Ing wen last December, infuriating Beijing.
In July the Royal Navy said it would send a warship to the South China Sea following a near-miss between US and Chinese planes.