US flies B-52 bombers over South China Sea

US flies B-52 bombers over South China Sea
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A pair of B-52 Stratofortress bombers flew a training mission over the South China Sea this week, the U.S. military said Friday

The bombers took off from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam and then flew to the South China Sea area for training Tuesday, according to a statement from Pacific Air Forces. They then flew to Okinawa and trained in the area with F-15C Strike Eagles. Afterward, the bombers flew back to Guam.

"Continuous Bomber Presence (CBP) missions are intended to maintain the readiness of U.S. forces," the Pacific Air Forces statement said. "The U.S. Pacific Command’s CBP missions, which have been routinely employed since March 2004, are in accordance with international law."

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During the mission, the bombers flew near two features in the Spratly Islands claimed by China, according to CNN, which cited an unnamed U.S. military official.

China has been building up and, according to U.S. officials, militarizing artificial islands in the South China Sea.

There are competing international claims for the territory, and while U.S. officials have said the country does not take sides in the territorial dispute, they have also said the heavily trafficked waterway must remain open and unmilitarized.

China in the past has raised objections when U.S. military assets have come close to the islands its claims in the South China Sea.

In response to reports of the B-52 mission, Chinese military spokesman Senior Col. Wu Qian told reporters Thursday that “the situation is under the control of the Chinese military.”

“The [People’s Liberation Army] will, as always, firmly safeguard its national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Wu added.

Adm. Philip Davidson, who was recently confirmed to be the new commander of U.S. Pacific Command, told Congress last week that China is using the islands to gain regional control.

"It is my belief that they intend to establish the military structure that will help them control the air and sea lanes through that region of the world,” he said at his confirmation hearing.

Updated at 6:33 p.m.