China has for the first time landed several bombers on an island in the South China Sea as part of a training exercise in the disputed region.
The Chinese Air Force said its bombers, including an Xian H-6K bomber, had “recently” carried out landing and take-off drills on an islet in the disputed waters as part of efforts to deal with maritime security threats.
The exact name of the island or the location of the drills was not specified in the release.
“A division of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) recently organized multiple bombers such as the H-6K to conduct take-off and landing training on islands and reefs in the South China Sea in order to improve our ability to reach all territory, conduct strikes at any time and strike in all directions,” the statement said.
Wang Minliang, a military expert, was quoted in the release as saying that the bombers’ training drills were “beneficial to enhance the real combat ability against all kinds of security threats in the sea.”
The H-6K is a modernized version of the Soviet Union’s 1950s-era Tu-16 Badger and is capable of carrying long-range cruise missiles.
China angers US after landing planes
US Department of Defense condemned the military activity on Friday, saying there were “raising tensions and destabilizing the region.”
Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Logan, a spokesman at the Pentagon, told Reuters that the exercise was an act of “China’s continued militarization of disputed features in the South China Sea.”
Beijing says its military drills in the South China Sea are part of routine military training.
Earlier in the month, the White House said it was prepared to take measures against any activities aimed at the militarization of the South China Sea, after reports said Beijing had deployed new missiles on three outposts in the hotly contested region.
China’s Defense Ministry says drills in the South China Sea are in line with routine military training.
“We’re well aware of China’s militarization of the South China Sea. We’ve raised concerns directly with the Chinese about this, and there will be near-term and long-term consequences,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters during a press briefing on May 3.
US media, citing sources close to US intelligence, reported that the Chinese military had over the last 30 days installed anti-ship and air-to-air defenses on the Spratly Islands claimed by Vietnam and the Philippines.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying defended the country’s peaceful construction in the islands, including “the deployment of necessary national defense facilities.”
“The relevant deployment targets no one. Anyone with no invasive intention will find no reason to worry about this,” the spokeswoman said in a press briefing. “We hope that the relevant party could view this matter in an objective and calm way.”
China previously announced in 2016 that it had deployed similar defense systems to Woody Island in the Paracel Islands, on the northwestern edge of the sea.
Beijing has, on different occasions, asserted its sovereignty over nearly all of the South China Sea, which serves as a crossing for more that $5 trillion worth of maritime trade annually. The sea is also claimed in part by the Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan.
The US has been taking sides with several of China’s neighbors in their territorial disputes in the busy sea, and stepped up its military presence in the South China Sea under the pretext of freedom of navigation operations in international waters.
China calls the US military presence in the region an instance of meddling and warns it’s likely to stir regional tensions. Beijing’s deployment by of defensive facilities in the region is believed to be partly motivated by the US military buildup.