The U.S. Air Force flew two long-range nuclear-capable B-52H Stratofortress bombers over the South China Sea this week. China branded the flight “provocative” on Thursday and blamed the United States for deteriorating relations between the two countries.
The bomber flights occurred on Sunday and Tuesday. Officials said both missions were escorted by Japanese fighters and passed near the Senkaku Islands, whose ownership is disputed by China and Japan.
The Pentagon described the missions as a “regularly scheduled combined operation” intended to “enhance our readiness and interoperability with our partners and allies in the region.”
“The United States military will continue to fly sail and operate wherever international law allows at a times and places of our choosing,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Dave Eastburn said.
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis described the bomber missions as routine and unremarkable on Wednesday.
“That just goes on. If it was 20 years ago and had they not militarized those features there it would have been just another bomber on its way to Diego Garcia or wherever, so there’s nothing out of the ordinary about it,” Mattis said, referring to China’s installation of weapons and military airfields on South China Sea islands.
The Chinese Defense Ministry held a briefing on Thursday in which it complained about the bomber flights, U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, and U.S. sanctions against China for buying Russian military equipment.
“As for the provocative action taken by the U.S. military aircraft, we are firmly against it and we will take all necessary means to safeguard our rights and interests,” Defense Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said.