October 25, 2016

South China Sea: US bomber angers Beijing with Spratly islands flypast

US Navy says its B-52 plane had no intention of flying so close to the Chinese-claimed Spratly archipelago in the South China Sea.

A United States B-52 bomber mistakenly flew within two nautical miles of Chinese-claimed territory in the South China Sea last week, Pentagon officials said on Friday.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the incident involving the B-52 bomber took place last week near the Cuarteron Reef in the Spratly archipelago, disputed territory claimed by China and several of its neighbours.

Beijing claims the island chain is within China’s territorial borders. China has filed a formal complaint about the flypast with the US through the US embassy, prompting the Pentagon to look into the matter.

Navy Commander Bill Urban, a Pentagon spokesman, said the US regularly conducted B-52 training missions throughout the region but there was no plan for the B-52 to fly within 12 nautical miles of any artificial island.

“For this mission, there was no intention of flying to within 12 nautical miles,” Urban said. “The Chinese have raised concerns with us about the flight path of a recent mission,” he said. “We are looking into the matter.”

A 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.

China has dramatically stepped up land reclamation work on reefs and atolls it claims in the Spratly island chain in the South China Sea in the past two years.

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.

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