WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. military flew B-52 bombers in the vicinity of the South China Sea this week, U.S. officials told Reuters, a move that is likely to cause anger in Beijing amid heightened tensions between the two countries.
Lieutenant Colonel Dave Eastburn, a Pentagon spokesman, said that B-52 bombers participated in a “regularly scheduled, combined operation in the vicinity of the South China Sea.”
“These routine events are designed to enhance our readiness and interoperability with our partners and allies in the region,” Eastburn said.
Such flights are common, but usually upset Beijing. In June, China’s foreign ministry said no military ship or aircraft could scare China away from its resolve to protect its territory after two U.S. Air Force B-52 bombers flew near disputed islands in the South China Sea.
The United States and China have frequently sparred about the militarization of the South China Sea, where China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines all have competing claims.
“The United States military will continue to fly sail and operate wherever international law allows at a times and places of our choosing,” Eastburn added.
China recently denied a request for a U.S. warship to visit Hong Kong amid rising tension between Beijing and Washington over trade and a U.S. decision to impose sanctions on the Asian nation’s military.
China summoned the U.S. ambassador in Beijing and postponed joint military talks in protest against a U.S. decision to sanction a Chinese military agency and its director for buying Russian fighter jets and a surface-to-air missile system.
The United States and China are embroiled in a trade war, sparked by Trump’s accusations that China has long sought to steal U.S. intellectual property, limit access to its own market and unfairly subsidise state-owned companies.
U.S. President Donald Trump accused China of seeking to meddle in the Nov. 6 U.S. congressional elections on Wednesday, saying Beijing did not want his Republican Party to do well because of his pugnacious stance on trade.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Alistair Bell)
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