China has accused the U.S. of a serious military provocation following the flight of an American B-52 strategic bomber over a Beijing-controlled man-made island in the South China Sea.
A Defense Ministry statement Saturday said the US is deliberately raising tensions in the disputed region. It demanded Washington immediately take measures to prevent such incidents that could damage the relations between the two nations’ militaries.
The ministry said it would take whatever necessary measures to protect China’s sovereignty and security.
The incident involving the B-52 bomber took place last week near the Cuarteron Reef in the Spratly archipelago.
Responding to Beijing’s complaint, a Pentagaon spokesman said: “The United States routinely conducts B-52 training missions throughout the region, including over the” sea. These missions are designed to maintain readiness and demonstrate our commitment to fly, sail, and operate anywhere allowed under international law.
“The Chinese have raised concerns with us about the flight path of a recent training mission,” Urban said. “We are looking into the matter. Beyond that, we will not comment on the substance of our diplomatic exchanges.”
An unnamed senior US defense official told the Wall Street Journal that bad weather had contributed to the pilot flying off course and into the area claimed by China.
The U.S. takes no official stance on sovereignty claims in the strategically crucial sea that China claims almost in its entirety. However, Washington maintains that China’s seven newly created islands do not enjoy traditional rights including a 12-nautical mile (22-kilometer) territorial limit.
In October, a US Navy destroyer, the USS Lassen, sailed within 12 nautical miles of Subi reef to deliberately challenge China’s claims of territorial waters there, prompting Chinese patrol boats to issue a warning that further “provocative actions” might lead to accelerated Chinese construction in the area.
On Nov.25, an Australian military surveillance AP-3C Orion flew near the disputed areas of the South China Sea after the crew warned China’s navy it was on a freedom of navigation mission.
The plane conducted a routine maritime patrol in the region as part of Operation Gateway from Nov. 25 to Dec. 4.
The BBC hired a small plane and took off from the Philippines, which also claims some of the scattered atolls and reefs in the region, to film Chinese claimed land and construction and to see whether they were challenged.
It said they were warned several times, with radio communication from the Chinese navy telling them “you are threatening the security of our station.”