China Tells U.S. Not to ‘Flaunt Military Force’ After U.S. Bombers Fly over South China Sea

The U.S. Air Force confirmed that two American bombers flew over disputed territories in the South China Sea on Friday, where China has illegally built numerous military facilities. China condemned the flight and demanded America stop “flaunting” its military assets in the region.

The Air Force confirmed that two B-1B bombers flew over the contested region out of Guam on Thursday local time. They flew over the area to assert freedom of the skies in the region but did not engage in any other activity. The move followed the first nighttime training exercises between Japanese Self-Defense Forces and the Air Force in the East China Sea. Unlike the South China Sea maneuver, the East China Sea mission was an exercise meant to help “operational units to improve their combined capabilities and tactical skills, while also building bilateral confidence and strong working relationships.”

“This is a clear demonstration of our ability to conduct seamless operations with all of our allies,” Maj. Ryan Simpson, Pacific Air Forces chief of bomber operations, told reporters.

The South China Morning Post notes that a third American military exercise also began on Friday in the region, saying that “the US 7th Fleet along with the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz began an 11-day joint exercise with Indian and Japanese forces in the Bay of Bengal.”

The Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a statement of annoyance at the South China Sea exercise. “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,” spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters. “The Chinese military will resolutely safeguard national sovereignty and security as well as regional peace and stability.”

China also protested this week following the second Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP) in the South China Sea under President Trump. The USS Stethem, a guided missile destroyer, sailed near the disputed Paracel Islands in a challenge to China’s claims to the region. China has built numerous military facilities in the Spratly and Paracel Island region, disregarding Vietnam’s and the Philippines’ claims to the territory. In addition to those two countries, China’s claims in the sea overlap with the sovereign territories of Brunei, Taiwan, and Malaysia, as well as the waters off of Natuna Island, Indonesia.

“China strongly urges the U.S. side to immediately stop this kind of provocative action which seriously violates China’s sovereignty and puts at risk China’s security,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said following the USS Stethem‘s mission.

This FONOP followed the publication of a new report from the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) revealing satellite images of China’s South China Sea projects. The images show China has built large underground structures, hardened shelters, and radar antennae on multiple reefs in the Spratly Islands, which China has been turning into artificial islands since 2013. The radar will help China’s surveillance operation in the region, hindering the freedom of Vietnam and the Philippines to explore their own sovereign territory.

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