In this July 10, 2010 photo, a B-52 Stratofortress aircraft from the 20th Bomb Squadron out of Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana flies over the Hawaiian operating area during the Rim of the Pacific exercise. Two B-52s reportedly flew within the vicinity of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
US Air Force/Staff Sgt. Kamaile O. Long
US bombers fly near Spratly Islands — report
( - June 5, 2018 - 3:05pm

MANILA, Philippines — Two nuclear-capable US bombers flew near the Spratly Islands a day after US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis accused China of "intimidation and coercion" in the South China Sea.

American news channel CNN reported that two B-52 strategic bombers of the US Air Force flew within 20 miles from the islands, according to a US defense official. The Spratly Islands are also being claimed by the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.

The US Pacific Air Forces, however, has denied that the bombers flew within the vicinity of China's man-made islands in the region. 

The Pentagon said the bombers were conducting a "routine training mission" as they flew from the Andersen Air Force Base in Guam to a naval facility on Diego Garcia atoll in the British Indian Ocean Territory, CNN reported.

Lt. Col. Chris Logan, spokesperson of the Pentagon, said that the aircraft were part of the US Pacific Command's "continuous bomber presence" operations "intended to maintain the readiness of US forces."

"US Pacific Command's CBP missions, which have been routinely employed since March 2004, are flown in accordance with international law," Logan said.

In a security and defense summit over the weekend, Mattis called out China for its expanding militarization of man-made islands in the South China Sea.

The Pentagon chief pointed out that Beijing's militarization of the disputed features in the contested waterway includes deployment of anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles, electronic jammers and the landing of bomber aircraft on Woody Island.

"Despite China's claims to the contrary, the placement of these weapons systems is tied directly to military use for the purposes of intimidation and coercion," Mattis said during the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.

The Pentagon is reportedly weighing a more assertive freedom of navigation operations near China's bases in the South China Sea, according to Reuters.

This may involve longer patrols with larger numbers of ships or closer surveillance of Beijing's outposts in the area.

The Pentagon refused to comment on its future operations in the region but Logan said the US "will continue to work with our friends, partners and allies to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific."

A few weeks ago, the two US Navy ships sailed within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel Islands, pushing China to send their own warships and confront the American warships.

USS Antietam and USS Higgins reportedly passed within the vicinity of four islands, including Woody Island, where Beijing recently landed an H-6K bomber.

China accused the US of violating their sovereignty and undermining strategic mutual trust between the two countries.

"The Chinese army is determined to strengthen the preparations for sea and air combat readiness, raise the level of defense, defend national sovereignty and security, and maintain the determination of regional peace and stability," Chinese Ministry of National Defense spokesperson Wu Qian said. — Patricia Lourdes Viray

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