The Chinese military has sent fighter planes and bombers to conduct live-fire exercises at a range in the disputed South China Sea, state broadcaster CCTV reported Saturday, just days after the U.S. sent heavy bombers through the strategic waterway twice during the past week.
The short report said that dozens of fighters and bombers from the People’s Liberation Army Naval Air Force from the Southern Theater Command had conducted the drills to test pilots’ assault, penetration and precision-strike capabilities at sea.
Beijing on Thursday blasted the U.S. flights over the South China Sea earlier this week by B-52 bombers, calling them a “provocation.”
“China’s principle and standpoint on the South China Sea are always clear,” Defense Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said, according to state-run media. “China firmly opposes U.S. military aircraft’s provocation in the South China Sea, and will take all necessary measures.”
Meanwhile, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang criticized unnamed countries for using freedom of navigation and overflight as excuses to harm other countries’ sovereignty and security, disturbing regional peace and stability.
Late last month, B-52s conducted similar training over the South China Sea. In addition to those exercises, the bombers integrated with the Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture-based Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group in the area.
In June, after two U.S. B-52 bombers flew near disputed islands in the South China Sea, China’s Foreign Ministry said no military ships or aircraft could scare China away from its resolve to protect its territory.
Washington and Beijing have frequently jousted over the militarization of the South China Sea, where China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines all have competing claims.
The two powers have often clashed over the region — which includes vital sea lanes through which over $3 trillion in global trade passes each year — and where China has built up a series of military outposts. China claims the area within its so-called nine-dash line, which encompasses most of the waterway.
China has said the facilities are for defensive purposes, but some experts say this is part of a concerted bid to cement de facto control over the South China Sea.
In a separate mission involving the U.S. Air Force and Air Self-Defense Force, a B-52 linked up over the East China Sea and Sea of Japan for a large-scale training mission involving 16 ASDF fighter jets, both countries’ militaries said Friday.
The mission, which took place Thursday, was the latest display by the U.S. and Japanese militaries of their improving integrated operations.