Two US B-52 strategic bombers flew over the contested South China Sea on Wednesday, the second such flight in 10 days despite China’s objections.
“Two B-52H Stratofortress bombers took off from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, and conducted routine training in the vicinity of the South China Sea March 13, before returning to base,” a spokeswoman for the Pacific Air Force said in a statement released on Thursday. “US aircraft regularly operate in the South China Sea in support of allies, partners, and a free and open Indo-Pacific. US Pacific Air Forces bombers have flown from Guam for more than a decade as part of US Indo-Pacific Command’s continuous bomber presence operations.”
Wednesday’s operation followed one on March 4, in which two B-52H conducted training flights from Guam, one to the East China Sea and one to the South China Sea. It also came as the US’ top diplomat accused China of blocking energy development in the South China Sea through “coercive means”, preventing Southeast Asian countries from accessing more than US$2.5 trillion in recoverable energy resources.
Addressing top energy firm executives and oil ministers in Houston, Texas, on Tuesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticised “China’s illegal island-building in international waterways”, insisting that it was not “simply a security matter”.
China’s foreign ministry slammed Pompeo’s claims as “irresponsible”. Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said in Beijing on Wednesday that Beijing had started consulting Southeast Asian nations about resolving disputes in the South China Sea, and called on non-claimant nations to keep out of the discussions.
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“Nations in the region are capable of resolving and managing the disputes in their own ways,” Lu said. “Nations outside the region should refrain from stirring up trouble and disrupting the harmonious situation.”