Two U.S. bombers flew over the highly-contested South China Sea, putting China’s extensive claims to the region to the test.
Asserting the right to treat the disputed waterway as international waters rather than Chinese territorial waters, two supersonic B-1B Lancers dispatched from Guam conducted a flyover mission in the South China Sea, the Air Force revealed Friday, according to Reuters.
The bombers first drilled with Japanese fighter jets in the East China Sea, where Beijing and Tokyo are also at odds over an unresolved territorial dispute.
In recent months, China has been securing a military foothold in the region through the construction of armed outposts equipped with fortified aircraft hangars, ports, anti-aircraft and point defense systems, and missile units. While the Obama administration was quick to criticize but slow to act, the Trump administration has already conducted two freedom-of-navigation operations and two flyovers. Such actions, however, may do little to sway China or deter it from boosting its military presence in the region.
The Trump administration initially appeared to be giving China a pass on issues ranging from trade to the militarization of contested waterways in hopes that Beijing would rein in the aggressive regime in North Korea, which recently tested an intercontinental ballistic missile after a string of other disconcerting missile tests. As Beijing has, despite a few efforts here and there, failed to curb Pyongyang’s ballistic and nuclear ambitions, the administration appears to be stepping up pressure on Beijing through tougher rhetoric and actions that pose a threat to China’s national interests.
In the South China Sea, pressure resembles freedom-of-navigation operations.
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Geng Shuang said Friday that China has no problem with freedom of navigation or overflight, but “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.”
“The Chinese military will resolutely safeguard national sovereignty and security, as well as regional peace and stability,” the Chinese Ministry of National Defense told Reuters reporters in a statement.
Beijing expressed displeasure with the U.S. after an earlier flyover in June.
China’s vast claims to the South China Sea were largely discredited by an international tribunal last summer. Beijing, however, rejected the authority of the court and the ruling and continues to advance its efforts to dominate the region.
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