China, U.S. conduct separate drills in disputed waterways
China and the United States trained separately in the contested waters of the East China Sea and South China Sea, respectively, just days apart in late April 2018, according to news reports.
Two U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress bombers flew from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam on April 24, 2018, to conduct a training mission near the South China Sea and Okinawa, Japan.
“Continuous bomber presence (CBP) missions are intended to maintain the readiness of U.S. forces,” a U.S. Air Force spokeswoman said of the training, which took place two days after China’s display of force with a live combat drill in the South China Sea, Reuters reported. “The U.S. Pacific Command’s CBP missions, which have been routinely employed since March 2004, are in accordance with international law. This was a routine mission.”
(Pictured: A U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress bomber prepares for takeoff from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam in March 2018.)
Taiwan media reported the U.S. drills may have been a warning to China, which continues to increase its military presence around Taiwan and in contested waters of the East China Sea and South China Sea in general.
Two days prior to the B-52 flights, China’s sole aircraft carrier led a flotilla of naval vessels in a live combat drill in the East China Sea. A week earlier, the flotilla held two separate drills in waters on either side of Taiwan.
Chinese media reported that the East China Sea display included anti-aircraft and anti-submarine warfare training with a simulated opposing force, according to Reuters.
The Chinese Communist Party has laid claim to large swaths of territory in the East China Sea and South China Sea. As part of China’s military modernization, a new aircraft carrier could soon begin sea trials; images have surfaced showing it leaving its dock in Dalian, China, Reuters reported.
“China routinely challenges the presence of non-Chinese forces, including other claimant nations and especially the U.S., often overstating its authority and insisting foreign forces either stay away or obtain Chinese permission to operate,” U.S. Pacific Command Commander Adm. Harry B. Harris, Jr., told a U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee in March 2018. “Since 1979, the U.S. Freedom of Navigation program has peacefully challenged excessive maritime claims by coastal states all around the world, including those of our friends and allies. This program consists of diplomatic communications and operational assertions, which are not provocative and are not a threat to any country. These operations are conducted globally to maintain open seas and skies, which underpins economic prosperity for the U.S. and all countries.”
U.S. officials say they will continue conducting such freedom of navigation operations in accordance with international law.