In a move to strengthen its domination in the South China Sea, China on Saturday landed strategic bombers on an island in the South China Sea, drawing sharp reaction from the US which said that the move will "raise tensions and destabilise the region".
China's air force said that its fighter jets, including an H-6K bomber, had recently conducted take-off and landing training on an island reef in the resource-rich South China Sea (SCS).
The training had elevated the air force's abilities of "reaching its full territory, assaulting in full time and space, and striking in full scope", the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post quoted the People's Liberation Air Force (PLAF) as saying. Wang Minliang, a military expert, was quoted as saying that the bombers' take-off and landing training was "beneficial to enhance the real combat ability against all kinds of security threats in the sea".
People's Daily, the Chinese Communist Party's official newspaper, yesterday posted a video on its Twitter account featuring a series of the H-6K's training programmes, including take-off, landing, and flying.
Chinese bombers including the H-6K conduct takeoff and landing training on an island reef at a southern sea area pic.twitter.com/ASY9tGhfAU— People's Daily,China (@PDChina) May 18, 2018
The Chinese move invoked a sharp reaction from the US which said that it will "raise tensions and destabilise the region".
A spokesman at the Pentagon, Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Logan, called the exercise an act of "China's continued militarisation of disputed features in the South China Sea", the Post report said.
Bonnie Glaser, a China security expert at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said the location of the H-6K landing was believed to be Woody Island. Woody Island is part of the Paracel Island chain in the South China Sea, which has been under China's control for over 40 years. China, Vietnam, and Taiwan have overlapping claims in the area.
Earlier in May, the United States reported that China may have deployed missile systems in the Spratly Islands, a contested feature in the South China Sea.
The construction of Chinese air and naval base structures on these islands has been met with criticisms from other claimants in the South China Sea.
The South China Sea issue has been brewing for years, with China, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam making competing claims in waters with vital global shipping routes and what are believed to be significant oil and natural gas deposits.
China has engaged in years of land-reclamation efforts on reefs it controls in the region and built both civilian and military facilities in the contested area.
Chinese military facilities include air bases, radar and communications systems, naval facilities and defensive weaponry including landing strips able to accommodate military planes.