Just one day after US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis accused China of “intimidation and coercion” in the South China Sea, two nuclear-capable US bombers flew near the Spratly Islands.
CNN has reported that two B-52 strategic bombers of the US Air Force passed within 20 miles from the islands.
The Spratly Islands are also claimed by the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.
However, the US Pacific Air Forces has denied that the bombers flew within the vicinity of China’s man-made islands in the disputed waters.
The Pentagon said the bombers were conducting a “routine training mission” as they flew from Guam to a naval facility on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.
Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Chris Logan said the aircraft were part of the US Pacific Command’s “continuous bomber presence” operations “intended to maintain the readiness of US forces”.
“US Pacific Command’s CBP missions, which have been routinely employed since March 2004, are flown in accordance with international law,” he said.
As we reported yesterday, Mattis called out China for its expanding militarisation of the South China Sea while speaking at a defence summit in Singapore.
He pointed out that Beijing’s activities in the disputed waters included the deployment of anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles, electronic jammers and the landing of nuclear-capable bomber aircraft on Woody Island.
“Despite China’s claims to the contrary, the placement of these weapons systems is tied directly to military use for the purposes of intimidation and coercion,” Mattis said at the Shangri-La Dialogue.
As we reported late last month, two US Navy ships sailed within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel Islands, prompting China to send their own warships and confront the US warships.
USS Antietam and USS Higgins reportedly passed within the vicinity of four islands, including Woody Island, where Beijing recently landed an H-6K nuclear-capable bomber.
China accused the US of violating its sovereignty and undermining trust between the two countries.
Chinese Ministry of National Defence spokeswoman Wu Qian said: “The Chinese army is determined to strengthen the preparations for sea and air combat readiness, raise the level of defence, defend national sovereignty and security, and maintain the determination of regional peace and stability.”
Meanwhile, one of the fastest US military ships arrived in Puerto Princesa City yesterday (Monday, June 4) for a training exercise with Philippine marines.
Spearhead-class joint high speed vessel USNS Millinocket, with US 7th Fleet staff sailors and marines aboard, arrived in the country as part of the fleet’s ‘theatre security patrol’, the US Navy said.