Two US B-52 bombers fly over contested South China Sea islands

Picture courtesy of USAF.

Two US B-52 bombers have again flown near contested islands in the South China Sea according to a statement from Pacific Air Forces.

The Strato-fortress bombers, which are based in Guam, “participated in a routine training mission in the vicinity of the South China Sea,” the statement said today (Thursday, October 18). It added that Tuesday’s flight was part of US Indo-Pacific Command’s “Continuous Bomber Presence operations” which have been ongoing since 2004.

The Pentagon would not confirm which islands the B-52s flew close to, but recent tensions in the disputed waters have centred on the Spratly Islands.

The US regularly flies aircraft over the South China Sea but Beijing is particularly sensitive about the operations when they come close to China’s man-made islands and military facilities.

Pacific Air Forces said this week’s mission is “consistent with international law and United States’ long-standing commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

The “Chinese have successfully militarised some of these outposts and their behaviours become more assertive and we’re trying to have an appropriate response,” US Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Randall Schriver told reporters traveling in the region with Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

As we recently reported, a Chinese destroyer sailed within 45 yards of the USS Decatur, forcing the American warship to manoeuvre to avoid a collision while it was sailing near the Spratly Islands.

The US called the Chinese warship’s actions “unsafe and unprofessional” while Beijing said the US was threatening the safety and sovereignty of China.

Pentagon officials have said that despite the recent incident involving the Decatur, the US would continue its “freedom of navigation” operations.

“What we don’t want to do is reward aggressive behaviour like you saw with the Decatur incident by modifying our behaviour,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia, Joe Felter, told reporters.

“That’s just not going happen we’re going to continue to exercise our rights under international law and encourage all our partners to do the same.”

Beijing has not yet reacted to this week’s B-52 over flight, but on previous occasions has slammed similar operations as “provocative”.

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