Chinese Strategic Bombers Circle Disputed Islands In South China Sea

REUTERS/Ritchie B. Tongo/Pool

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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Chinese strategic bombers have twice circled the contested Spratly Islands in the South China Sea this month, likely a warning to the U.S. and rival claimants.

The first bomber flight took place Jan. 1, and the second occurred over the weekend. The flights represent a “show of force,” a U.S. official revealed to Reuters.

Chinese bombers flew along the nine-dashed line, a discredited territorial demarcation in the South China Sea, in December.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled against China’s extensive and expanding claims to the South China Sea last summer; however, China rejected the authority of the arbitration tribunal and the ruling.

China continues to boost its military presence in the region.

“China appears to have built significant point-defense capabilities, in the form of large anti-aircraft guns and probable close-in weapons systems (CIWS), at each of its outposts in the Spratly Islands,” the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), a Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) project, revealed in a report in December.

“This is militarization. The Chinese can argue that it’s only for defensive purposes, but if you are building giant anti-aircraft gun and CIWS emplacements, it means that you are prepping for a future conflict,” AMTI Director Greg Poling told Reuters.

“If somebody is flexing their muscles on your doorstep, can’t you at least get a slingshot?” asked Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Geng Shuang, “The necessary military installations are mainly for self-defense and are fair and legal.”

China’s carrier battle group led by the Liaoning recently conducted drills and weapons testing in the South China Sea.

“We continue to observe a range of ongoing Chinese military activity in the region,” Pentagon spokesman Commander Gary Ross explained Wednesday without going into specific details on the latest bomber runs.

China is anticipating future confrontations between itself and the U.S. in the South China Sea. “The U.S. will certainly continue to stir up the South China Sea issue,” Li Jie, a Chinese naval affairs expert, told the Global Times.

“Facing pressure from the U.S., China needs to make preparations,” he added.

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