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China accuses US of military provocation

December 19, 2015

China has accused the United States of stoking tensions in the South China Sea after B-52 bombers flew within two nautical miles of an artificial island. The incident is the latest in a brewing dispute over the waters.

US Air Force B-52 Bomber
Image: picture alliance/AP Images/T. Stromme

Two US B-52 strategic bombers entered airspace over a Chinese-built artificial military outpost in the Spratly Islands last week in a "serious military provocation," Beijing said on Saturday.

"The actions by the US side constitute a serious military provocation and are rendering more complex and even militarizing conditions in the South China Sea," China's Defense Ministry said in a statement.

The statement said the Chinese military on the island went on high alert during the December 10 overflight and warned the aircraft to leave the island's airspace.

Responding to China's complaint, the Pentagon on Friday said that the overflight was unintentional and would be investigated.

Issuing a more diplomatic response, China's Foreign Ministry on Saturday said the situation in the South China Sea was stable and that outside countries should avoid manufacturing tensions.

"Some countries outside the region are concerned about this region and we totally understand that, but I think these states need to support attempts to keep this region stable rather than just aggravating tensions or playing countries off against each other," China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi said during a visit to Berlin.

China claims sovereignty over the South China Sea and has built seven artificial islands over shallow reefs in the past year to exert control over the resource-rich waters, which are also claimed by neighboring states.

An artificial Chinese Island in the South China Sea.
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Over the past several months, Washington has conducted so-called freedom of navigation missions, including sailing a guided-missile destroyer in October near the islands in a challenge to Chinese claims. At the time, China referred to the destroyer sail-by as an "extremely irresponsible" move.

Washington's official policy is to ensure freedom of navigation along a major trade route. The US added that it has no position on sovereignty over the South China Sea, over which Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Brunei have made various claims of sovereignty. The United States also said that international law, when applied to artificial islands, does not give China traditional territorial rights, which extend 12 nautical miles (22 kilometers) from the coast of a country's territory.

But China's Defense Ministry asserted that "the United States has continuously sent military ships and planes to make a show of force and create tensions in the waters and airspace." It added that China would "take all necessary measures" to defend its sovereignty over the islands.

China backed up those claims this week by conducting war games involving warships, submarines and fighter jets, the Chinese Army's media outlet said.

The latest tension over the South China Sea comes a week after the US approved a $1.8 billion (1.65 billion euros) arms deal to Taiwan for warships, missiles and amphibious assault vehicles.

Beijing considers Taiwan a breakaway province and filed a diplomatic complaint demanding the United States not go through with the arms sale in order to avoid harming US-China relations.

cw/sms (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)