In a defiant response to Chinese air traffic controllers, the pilot of the US Air Force B-1B Lancer bomber replied that — in line with Pentagon policy — they were actually in international airspace.
The planes then continued on their flightpath, passing about 70 nautical miles southwest of South Korea’s Jeju Island.
The face-off came about because the bombers had actually entered the Chinese Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) — a self-declared status for an area of sky over the East China Sea.
The zone covers a number of islands claimed by Japan, and is not recognised by the US.
US Pacific Air Forces spokesman Major Phil Ventura said: “Pacific Air Forces did not recognise the Chinese Air Defence Identification Zone when it was announced in November of 2013, and does not recognise it today.”
“The ADIZ has not changed our operations.”
However, Chinese authorities continue to demand that planes using the airspace must first notify officials.