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B-52s tear through South China Sea ahead of US-China military meeting

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Two U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress bombers fly over the Pacific Ocean during a routine training mission
Two
U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress bombers fly over the Pacific
Ocean during a routine training mission


Pacific
Air Forces



  • Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and his Chinese
    counterpart Gen. Wei Fenghe, the Chinese defense minister, met
    Thursday to discuss a number of issues, particularly their
    disputes in the South China Sea.
  • Two days prior, two US Air Force B-52 bombers flew
    through the contested area, sending a message about America’s
    determination to continue naval freedom-of-navigation
    operations and aerial overflights in areas the US considers
    international.
  • The flight comes just a few weeks after a showdown
    between a Chinese destroyer and a US Navy warship near the
    Spratly Islands.

Two US bombers tore through the hotly-contested South China Sea
Tuesday, an apparent power play signaling US determination to
continue to fly and sail wherever international law allows ahead
of a key meeting between US and Chinese defense chiefs Thursday.

A pair of Guam-based US Air Force B-52H Stratofortress heavy
long-range bombers “participated in a routine training mission in
the vicinity of the South China Sea,” Pacific Air Forces
told
CNN in a statement, adding that the flights were in
support of US Indo-Pacific Command’s Continuous Bomber Presence,
a mission focused on deterring regional challengers.

The Pentagon did not specifically identify which islands the
aircraft flew by, but open-source flight tracking data suggests
they may have been near the Spratly Islands, the location of a
recent
showdown
between a Chinese destroyer and a US warship
carrying out a close pass of the islands. During the incident,
which occurred late last month, a Chinese naval vessel
nearly collided
with destroyer USS Decatur.

Following that incident, Vice President Mike Pence
warned
that “we will not stand down.”

What we don’t want to do is reward aggressive behavior
like you saw with the Decatur incident by modifying our
behavior,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South
and Southeast Asia Joe Felter, according to CNN.

“That’s just not going happen. We’re going to continue to
exercise our rights under international law and encourage all our
partners to do the same.”

The flight was seemingly intended to send a message that the US
will not change its behavior in response to Chinese aggression at
sea.

The “Chinese have successfully militarized some of these
outposts and their behavior’s become more assertive and we’re
trying to have an appropriate response,” Assistant Secretary
of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Randall
Schriver told the reporters traveling with abroad with Secretary
of Defense Jim Mattis.

China does not see the situation the same way, having
previously described bomber overflights in the South China Sea as
“provocative.”

China “always respects and upholds the freedom of
navigation and overflight enjoyed by other countries under
international law,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman
Lu Kang
said
at a press briefing Thursday, adding that China “firmly
opposes to relevant country’s act to undermine the sovereign and
security interests of littoral countries and disrupt regional
peace and stability under the pretext of ‘freedom of navigation
and overflight.'”

“We will take necessary measures to safeguard our sovereign
and security interests,” he warned.

The flight, one of many through the disputed East and South China
Seas in recent months, came ahead of a meeting between Mattis and
his Chinese counterpart Gen. Wei Fenghe, the Chinese defense
minister. The meeting had been previously canceled amid rising
tensions over trade, territorial disputes, sanctions, and Taiwan.

Their meeting was described as “straightforward and candid” on
Thursday, with Pentagon officials saying that relations with the
Chinese military may be stabilizing, according
to the Associated Press. The discussions covered numerous topics
but focused heavily on tensions in the South China Sea.

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