China says it will safeguard sovereignty, after US flight over South China Sea

A pair of B-1B Lancer bombers soar over Wyoming in an undated file photo.
A pair of B-1B Lancer bombers soar over Wyoming in an undated file photo.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING/TOKYO (REUTERS) – China’s Defence Ministry said on Friday (July 7) the military will resolutely safeguard the country’s sovereignty and security, after two US bombers flew over the disputed South China Sea.  

The flight from Guam on Thursday was announced earlier Friday by the US Air Force, asserting the right to treat the region as international territory despite China’s claims in the busy waterway.

The move came as US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping prepare for a likely meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Germany. The two leaders were expected to discuss what Beijing can do to rein in Pyongyang’s missiles and nuclear weapons programmes.

Asked about the flight by the two US bombers, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said there was no problem with freedom of navigation or overflight for the East and South China Seas.

“But China resolutely opposes individual countries using the banner of freedom of navigation and overflight to flaunt military force and harm China’s sovereignty and security,” he said.  

China’s Defence Ministry, in a short statement sent to Reuters, said China always maintained its vigilance and“effectively monitors relevant countries’ military activities next to China”.

“The Chinese military will resolutely safeguard national sovereignty and security as well as regional peace and stability,” it added, without elaborating.

 

The United States believes North Korea fired an intercontinental ballistic missile on Tuesday that put parts of the US mainland within range of Pyongyang’s warheads for the first time.

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, through which about US$5 trillion (S$6.9 trillion) in ship-borne trade passes each year, a stance contested by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. Beijing usually protests against freedom of navigation operations such as bomber flights.

The United States has criticised China’s build-up of military facilities in the South China Sea, concerned that they could be used to extend Beijing’s strategic reach.

The two Lancers that made the latest flight had earlier trained with Japanese jet fighters in the neighbouring East China Sea, the first time the two forces had conducted joint night-time drills.

“This is a clear demonstration of our ability to conduct seamless operations with all our allies,” US Air Force spokesman Major Ryan Simpson said in a statement.

Two US B-1B Lancer bombers flew from Guam over the South China Sea last month, while a US warship carried out a manoeuvring drill within 12 nautical miles of one of China’s artificial islands in the waterway in late May.