The US Air Force said in a statement on Friday that the Thursday flyover by two B-1B Lancer strategic bombers had been meant to assert the US’s right to pass through what the US regards as international territory.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, where Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei also have competing claims.
The US supports China’s rival claimants and routinely sends airplanes and ships to the disputed region to signal its disregard of Chinese sovereignty claims.
China opposes challenges to sovereignty
Reacting to the flyovers, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Friday that Beijing had no problem with freedom of navigation or overflights in the East and South China Seas but opposed show-of-force maneuvers meant to challenge sovereignty.
“China resolutely opposes individual countries using the banner of freedom of navigation and overflight to flaunt military force and harm China’s sovereignty and security,” he said.
Just on Sunday, the USS Stethem, a guided-missile destroyer, sailed within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island, Chinese-claimed territory in the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. China said it had scrambled navy battle ships and fighter jets in response, and called the sailing of the US warship “unauthorized” and a “provocation.”
Before the Thursday flights, the two bombers had participated in a joint training exercise with Japanese jet fighters in the East China Sea, where another territorial dispute pits China against Japan.
The exercise was the first time American and Japanese air forces conducted joint night-time drills.
US, Japan, India begin naval exercises
In a separate development, the US’s 7th Fleet and Japanese and Indian forces began 11-day joint military drills in the Bay of Bengal on Friday.
The super-carrier USS Nimitz, India’s aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, and Japan’s largest warship, JS Izumo, will be taking part in the joint naval war games in Malabar region in southern India.
The US Navy’s guided-missile cruiser USS Princeton and guided-missile destroyers USS Howard, USS Shoup, and USS Kidd will participate in the joint naval drills, too, local Indian media reported.