The Pentagon have confirmed that B-52 bombers recently flew over the Chinese man-made islands in the South China Sea, and that China tried to contact the bombers but to no avail.
The disputed waters have been a contentious subject between Washington and Beijing, with the US saying that they do not recognise China’s claim of sovereignty over the islands. So the recent sight of a U.S. bomber flying over Chinese territory will have rattled the Chinese government.
A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Hill newspaper on Thursday that two bombers had passed within 22.2km, or 13.8 miles of the islands over the weekend.
Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook confirmed the incident to The Hill, but declined to say when it happened.
“We conduct B-52 flights in international air space in that part of the world all the time,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook told 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.”
The announcement from the Pentagon comes as tensions are still simmering after Washington sent a US warship within 12 nautical miles of the manmade islands.
On October 27, the USS Lassen sailed near the Spratly islands in a challenge to China’s territorial claims in the region.
The Pentagon last week pledged to continue such patrols in the region in accordance with freedom of navigation and international law.
Roughly $5 trillion in trade passes through the South China Sea annually. While China claims over 90% of the region, there are overlapping claims from Malaysia, Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam, and the Philippines.