U.S. flies B-52 bombers near disputed islands in South China Sea

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A U.S. Air Force B-52 bomber takes off from Andersen Air Force Base, on the U.S. island territory of Guam, for a routine training mission in the vicinity of the South China Sea and Indian Ocean on Sept. 23. | U.S. PACIFIC AIR FORCES

The U.S. Air Force has flown two B-52 bombers near disputed islands in the South China Sea, the military said in a statement,the japantimes has published.

The U.S. Pacific Air Forces said that the two Guam-based bombers had conducted training “in the vicinity of the South China Sea” on Tuesday.

“This recent mission is consistent with international law and United States’ long-standing commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” it said.

The United States routinely flies bombers in the area as part of its “Continuous Bomber Presence” missions. This has become a particularly sensitive issue for Beijing, which has been angered by the presence of U.S. military forces in the skies and waters near its man-made islands in the South China Sea, some of which have been built up into garrisons with radar installations and military-grade runways.

It has even deployed anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missile systems (SAMs) to some of the islets, according to the U.S.

Beijing says its facilities in the waters are for defensive purposes, but some observers say this is part of a concerted bid to cement de facto control of the South China Sea.

U.S. Indo-Pacific Command head Adm. Phil Davidson told a security conference in Halifax, Canada, last week that China has transformed “what was a ‘great wall of sand’ just three years ago (into) a ‘great wall of SAMs.’ ”

China’s emplacement of those missiles gives Beijing “the potential to exert national control over international waters and airspace through which over 3 trillion dollars in goods travel every year,” Davidson said.

China has repeatedly said that it has “indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and its adjacent waters,” but Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines also have overlapping claims in the waterway, which includes vital sea lanes where the U.S., Chinese, Japanese and some Southeast Asian navies also routinely operate.

In July 2016, the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration issued a landmark ruling that Beijing’s expansive “nine-dash line” claim to the South China Sea had no legal basis. China has rejected the international tribunal’s ruling.