Thailand and China kicked off a joint air force exercise on Sunday, the kingdom’s military said, the first such drills in years following a pause forced by COVID-19.

The “Falcon Strike” exercise comes after China’s biggest-ever military drills around Taiwan, which were conducted in retaliation to a visit there by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Thai Air Chief Marshall Prapas Sornchaidee said “Falcon Strike,” running from August 14-25 in the northeast of the country, was meant to “strengthen relations and understanding” with China.

The visiting Chinese contingent will include fighter jets, bombers, and airborne early-warning (AEW) planes, the defense ministry in Beijing said last week.

It added that the drills will involve training for “air support, strikes on ground targets, and small- and large-scale troop deployment.”

The Thai-Chinese air force drills were held regularly since 2015 until the pandemic hit.

Washington has expressed growing concern over China’s assertiveness in the Pacific region and last week launched the “Super Garuda Shield” exercise in Indonesia with its allies.

Thailand sought to strengthen its defense ties with China, and was among the first countries to buy Chinese naval hardware under a deal finalized in 2017.

In 2020, however, a subsequent $724 million deal for two Chinese-made submarines was delayed after a public outcry.

Further wrangling over the vessels’ engines may see the delivery pushed back to 2024, local media reported this month.

See also  What Ukraine Teaches the US About Combat Helicopter Operations