Two US B-52 bombers flew near contested islands in the South China Sea Monday, according to US Pacific Air Forces.
“Two US Air Force B-52H Stratofortress bombers departed Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, and participated in a routine training mission” in “the vicinity of the South China Sea,” US Pacific Air Forces said in a statement.
“This recent mission is consistent with international law and United States’ long-standing commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the statement added.
While the US routinely flies bombers in the vicinity of the South China Sea as part of its long standing “Continuous Bomber Presence” missions, Beijing is particularly sensitive about the presence of US military forces near areas where the Chinese government has built islands and established military facilities on disputed maritime features.
In September, a Chinese warship came within 45 yards of the destroyer USS Decatur, forcing the US vessel to maneuver to avoid a collision, and the US Navy labeled China’s actions “unsafe and unprofessional.”
That incident took place while the Decatur was conducting a “Freedom of Navigation Operation,” which involved sailing within 12 nautical miles of Gaven and Johnson reefs in the Spratly Islands.
The US has accused China of deploying anti-ship missiles, electronic jammers, and surface-to-air missiles to contested islands in the South China Sea.
China’s emplacement of those missiles gives Beijing “the potential to exert national control over international waters and airspace through which over three trillion dollars in goods travel every year,” US Navy Adm. Phil Davidson, the commander of US Indo-Pacific Command, said Saturday at the Halifax International Security Forum in Nova Scotia.
“The (People’s Republic of China) says they’re militarizing these features in order to defend Chinese sovereignty, but in doing so they’re now violating the sovereignty of every other nation’s ability to fly, sail, and operate in accordance with international law – the right of all nations to trade, to communicate, to send their financial information, to send their communications through cables under the sea,” Davidson added.
But despite tensions between Beijing and Washington, Chinese authorities have recently granted a US Navy aircraft carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan, permission to make a port call in Hong Kong, two US defense officials told CNN.
China had cancelled a Hong Kong port visit by the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp in September.