, BEIJING, Dec 19 Two US B-52 bombers flew close to islands in the flashpoint South China Sea this month in a “serious military provocation”, Beijing said Saturday, as tensions simmer in the disputed waterway.
China insists it has sovereignty over virtually all of the resource-rich sea, conflicting with the various claims of several neighbouring nations, and US activity in the area has provoked Beijing’s ire several times in recent months.
“In the morning of 10 December, two US B-52 bombers entered air space over the Chinese Nansha islands and nearby areas without authorisation,” Beijing’s defence ministry said, using the Chinese name for the Spratly Islands.
“This behaviour is a serious military provocation which complicates the general situation in the South China Sea, (contributing) to the militarisation of the region,” the ministry said in a statement.
During the mission by the two B-52 bombers, one of the aircraft unintentionally flew within two nautical miles of an artificially constructed island, the Wall Street Journal quoted Pentagon officials as saying Friday.
This may have been because of bad weather conditions, according to officials quoted in the newspaper.
Washington said Saturday it routinely conducts training missions in the region, including the South China Sea, adding that it was investigating the reports of the bomber near the Spratly chain.
“The Chinese have raised concerns with us about the flight path of a recent training mission. We are looking into the matter,” Pentagon spokesman Mark Wright told AFP.
“I will also say that for this mission there was no intention of flying within 12 nautical miles of any feature,” he added. “This was not a Freedom of Navigation Operation.”