By: Daniel De Luce
Washington (AFP) – Two American B-52 bombers flew over a disputed area of the East China Sea without informing Beijing, challenging China’s claims to an expanded air defense zone, officials said Tuesday.
The flight of the giant, long-range Stratofortress planes sent a clear warning that Washington would push back against what it considers an aggressive stance by Beijing in the region.
The move also signaled staunch US support for Japan, which has been locked in a mounting feud with Beijing over disputed islands in the East China Sea.
The unarmed bombers took off from Guam on Monday on a scheduled flight, as part of what defense officials insisted was a routine exercise dubbed “Coral Lightning Global Power Training Sortie.’’
“Last night we conducted a training exercise that was long-planned. It involved two aircraft flying from Guam and returning to Guam,’’ Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steven Warren told reporters.
Although China has insisted it has a right to police the skies over the area, no flight plan was submitted beforehand to the Chinese and the mission went ahead “without incident,’’ Warren said.
The two aircraft spent “less than an hour’’ in China’s unilaterally-declared Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) and did not encounter Chinese planes, he said.
A defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed to AFP the two US planes were B-52 bombers.
The military flight carried important symbolism as it came a week before US Vice President Joe Biden’s scheduled trip to China, Japan and South Korea next month. China announced the expanded air defense zone amid a sovereignty dispute with Japan over the island chain in the East China Sea known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese.
The area also includes waters claimed by Taiwan and South Korea, which also have both denounced Beijing’s move.
Without taking sides in the territorial argument, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday called on China and Japan to negotiate an end to their dispute.
Ban on Tuesday said tensions should be handled “amicably through dialogue and negotiations.’’