China has placed its military forces on heightened alert in the northeastern part of the country as tensions mount on the Korean Peninsula, U.S. officials said.
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army recently increased its posture in response to the heightened tensions, specifically North Korea’s declaration of a “state of war” and threats to conduct missile attacks against the U.S. and South Korea.
According to the officials, the PLA has stepped up activities in the border region with North Korea since mid-March, including troop movements and warplane flights.
China’s navy also conducted live-fire drills in the Yellow Sea that were set to end Monday near the Korean Peninsula, in apparent support of North Korea, which has been angered by ongoing U.S.-South Korean military drills that are set to continue throughout April.
Meanwhile, North Korea is mobilizing missile forces, including road-mobile short- and medium-range missiles, according to officials familiar with satellite imagery of missile bases.
The missile activity is believed to be the North’s response to the U.S.-South Korean exercises, which last week included highly publicized flights by two B-2 stealth bombers.
Chinese military activities near North Korea were detected in Jilin Province, and intelligence reports from the area on March 19 indicated that PLA forces were ordered to go to “Level One” alert status, the highest level of readiness.
Large groups of soldiers were seen on the streets in Ji’an, a city in Jilin, amid reports that the PLA had been ordered to combat readiness status.
PLA heavy armored vehicles, including tanks and armored personnel carriers, were reported moving near the Yalu River that separates China from North Korea.The troops were part of the 190th Mechanized Infantry Brigade, stationed in Benxi, in Liaoning Province. The movements are believed to be related to increased tensions in Korea.
Additionally, PLA troops and military vehicles were seen near Baishan, in Jilin province, around March 21.
Low-flying PLA air force jets, believed to be fighters, also were heard and seen at several border locations in China, including Yanji and Yanbian in Jilin, Kuancheng, in Hebei province, and Dandong, in Liaoning province.
China’s military maintains a long-standing defense treaty with the North that obligates China to defend North Korea in the event it is attacked. The last time Chinese forces backed Pyongyang was during the Korean War, when tens of thousands of Chinese “volunteers” drove south into the peninsula.