The Chinese defense ministry has denounced flyovers by US B-52 bombers over the South China Sea as “provocative” actions.
The Pentagon has confirmed that the bombers had taken part in a combined operation with Japan over the East China Sea and had also flown through international airspace over the South China Sea.
In a monthly news briefing yesterday, Chinese defence ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said: “Regarding the provocative actions of US military aircraft in the South China Sea, we are always resolutely opposed to them, and will continue to take necessary measures in order to strongly handle it.”
China has claimed nearly all of the strategic waterway and built up a series of artificial islands and installed military facilities.
The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam all have competing claims to the waters, and an international maritime tribunal ruled in 2016 that China’s claims have no legal basis. The case in the Hague was brought by the Philippine government.
Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Dave Eastburn said this week’s flights were part of “regularly scheduled operations.”
The US rejects China’s territorial claims and routinely says the military will “continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows at times and places of our choosing”.
Washington this week enacted new tariffs against China covering another $200 billion of its imports while it has also sanctioned a Chinese military organisation for buying Russian weapons.
China has reacted angrily. This week it scrapped a US warship’s scheduled port visit to Hong Kong and also called off a meeting between the head of the Chinese navy and his American counterpart.
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he is not at all concerned if the B-52 bombers stoke tension with China.
“If it was 20 years ago and they have not militarised those features there, it would have just been another bomber on its way to Diego Garcia or whatever,” he told Pentagon reporters.
“So there’s nothing out of the ordinary about it, nor about our ships sailing through there.
“We’re just going through one of those periodic points where we’ve got to learn to manage our differences,” he said.
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