Several Chinese bomber aircraft landed last week on an island in the South China Sea – a disputed area situated between Vietnam and the Philippines.
The South China Sea is strategically important in that a full third of the world’s shipping passes through it. The area also contains fisheries vital for food security in Southeast Asia as well as untapped oil and gas reserves.
China for centuries has argued with Vietnam and the Philippines over territory in the South China Sea and in recent years has exerted its influence in the region with radar and communication systems, air and naval bases (including full landing strips), land-reclamation projects, and civilian facilities.
Last Friday, China carried out take-off and landing drills and conducted strike training on targets at sea.
The operations, which defense expert Wang Mingliang says will “strengthen” the Chinese air force’s “combat capability to deal with maritime security threats” were conducted just a few weeks after China installed anti-ship and air-to-air defense outposts on islands claimed by Vietnam and the Philippines.
The United States has no claim to the South China Sea, but frequently sends military ships and planes to patrol the area.
“China has to realize that they’ve benefited from the free navigation of the sea, and the US Navy has been the guarantor of that,” said Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White. “We will continue to do our operations.”
In April, the US Air Force sent B-52 bombers into the region as part of a “training mission.” China declared the exercise a “provocative move.”
Author’s Note: China’s ongoing militarization of the South China Sea threatens to inflame tensions with other nations, but even more worrisome is the implication that China intends to expand its territory and military reach without consideration for the sovereignty of other nations.