At least one U.S. B-52 bomber flew over disputes Chinese manmade islands in the South China Sea recently, the Pentagon said Thursday.
Chinese ground controllers contacted the bomber, but the aircraft continued its flight undeterred in a clear challenge to China’s territorial claim to the islands, Reuters reported.
“We conduct B-52 flights in international air space in that part of the world all the time,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook told reporters in a briefing. “My understanding is there was one B-52 flight, I’m not even sure the date on it, but there was an effort made by Chinese ground controllers to reach out to that aircraft and that aircraft continued its mission. … Nothing changed.”
A U.S. official told The Hill that two bombers made one pas within 12 nautical miles of the islands in what the military refers to as a “freedom of navigation” operation.
The flight came after China recently deployed advanced J-11 fighter aircraft to Woody Island, one of its five manmade islands.
The deployment is seen as a sign of Chinese aggression and a warning that China is prepared and willing to protect its territorial claim.
The man-made islands are located in the Spratly Islands rchipelago, which is made up hundreds of reefs, islets, atolls, cays and islands. Parts of the archipelago are also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
The bomber flight also comes two weeks after the U.S. sailed a guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef, another one of China’s artificial islands. The incident prompted outrage from Chinese officials who accused the U.S. of challenging China’s sovereignty over the islands.