An ongoing drill by the aircraft carrier Shandong of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy near the island of Taiwan was reportedly joined by additional PLA aviation and naval forces over the past few days, as the PLA continues to enhance its capabilities beyond the first island chain.

The defense authority on the island of Taiwan said in a press release on Wednesday that it had detected 43 PLA aircraft and seven PLA vessels around the island over the past day, with 37 of the detected aircraft, including J-10, J-16 and Su-30 fighters, H-6 bombers, KJ-500 early warning aircraft, YU-20 tanker aircraft, Y-8 and Y-9 special missions aircraft and a WZ-7 reconnaissance drone, crossing the so-called median line of the Taiwan Straits or entering the island’s self-proclaimed southwest and southeast air defense identification zone.

Many of these aircraft conducted a joint combat patrol with the Shandong carrier strike group on Tuesday, the defense authority on the island said in a separate release.

The Shandong carrier strike group started its exercise in waters off the eastern coast of the island of Taiwan on October 26, when the defense authority on the island spotted it crossing the Bashi Channel and entering the West Pacific.

According to a Saturday press release from Japan’s Ministry of Defense Joint Staff, the Shandong carrier strike group included the aircraft carrier Shandong, two Type 052D destroyers and two Type 054A frigates as of Saturday, and hosted aircraft takeoff and landing exercises in waters to the southeast of the island of Taiwan.

Also on Saturday, a PLA Navy electronic reconnaissance ship crossed the Miyako Strait and entered the West Pacific, followed by another Type 052D destroyer and another Type 054A frigate on Monday, Japan’s Ministry of Defense Joint Staff said.

Additionally, from Sunday to Monday, a Type 055 large destroyer, a Type 901 comprehensive replenishment ship and another electronic reconnaissance ship also entered the West Pacific, according to another Japanese press release.

These vessels, together with the aircraft spotted by the island of Taiwan, likely joined up with the aircraft carrier Shandong and held joint exercises or conducted mock battles, as the PLA continues to strengthen its far sea combat capabilities beyond the first island chain, a Chinese mainland military expert who requested anonymity told the Global Times on Wednesday.

PLA aircraft carriers have made exercises in this region routine, displaying its capabilities and confidence in safeguarding national sovereignty and territorial integrity, the expert said.

The previous far sea exercise by the aircraft carrier Shandong took place only a little more than one month ago, when it conducted a swift, large-scale joint exercise to the east of the island of Taiwan in mid September.

From this sea region, the PLA can surround the “Taiwan independence” secessionist forces from the east and deny external military interference attempts, experts said.

General Zhang Youxia, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, said in the keynote speech delivered at the 10th Beijing Xiangshan Forum on Monday that the Chinese military will never tolerate and will be relentless against anyone who dares to split Taiwan from China in any way.