Less than two weeks after the US Navy sailed guided missile destroyer USS Lassen within 12 nautical miles of Chinese-build artificial islands, the US has challenged China’s claims again. Washington said Thursday that two B-52 strategic bombers flew near the artificial islands in the South China Sea earlier this week. They were warned verbally by Chinese ground controllers, but continued their mission undeterred.
The aircraft didn’t venture within 15 miles of China’s artificial islands
The strategic bombers took off from Guam, flew around the Spratly Islands on the night of November 8 and 9, said US Army Major Dave Eastburn. American officials described these operations as freedom of navigation in disputed waters. China claims almost entire South China Sea, even areas close to the coasts of other countries. The US encourages all parties to resolve the dispute diplomatically instead of using their comparative strength to bully their neighbors.
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Last week, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter also visited a US aircraft carrier in the South China Sea. The bombers were on a routine mission in “international airspace in the vicinity of the Spratly Islands.” The Chinese ground controllers issued two verbal warnings even though the aircraft never ventured within 15 miles of the man-made features, said a Pentagon spokesman.
Obama set to visit the region next week
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Beijing respected freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea in line with international laws. But it opposes any country “harming and violating China’s sovereignty and security interests” in the name of freedom of navigation. China had reacted angrily when the USS Lassen challenged Beijing’s territorial claims in the Spratlys last month.
The move comes ahead of President Barack Obama’s visit to the region next week. Obama is scheduled to attend three Asia-Pacific summits. During his trip, President Obama is expected to reiterate the US commitment to freedom of navigation and overflight in the area. He will attend the APEC forum summit in Manila, the ASEAN and East Asia summits in Kuala Lumpur.