China is angry after they claim that a United States B-52 bomber jet flew withing 12 miles of man-made islands in the South China Sea called the Spratlys without the country’s permission. The artificial islands consist of three separate islands in the South China Sea that the country claims as part of their territory. China says that a U.S. bomber flew within 12 nautical miles of the islands without permission and are raising concerns about the U.S. flight paths in the area. However, the United States says the flight was an “accident” and that no training missions were planned to take place within that close of a range to the islands and said they will be “looking into” the matter.
— Warfare Worldwide (@WarfareWW) December 19, 2015
The Daily Mail reports that China is not happy after learning that a U.S. B-52 bomber flew within 12 nautical miles of the Spratlys in the South China Sea. The Navy Commander Bill Urban, a Pentagon spokesman, claims the close flight path was “accidental” and that there was no plan for the bomber to fly within 12 nautical miles of any of the three islands. However, Urban says that they are looking into the matter. Urban also noted that this was “not a Freedom of Navigation operation.”
“This was not a Freedom of Navigation operation. The Chinese have raised concerns with us about the flight path of a recent training mission. We are looking into the matter.”
A Freedom of Navigation operation is, according to the U.S. Department of State, is the principle that sovereign nations have maritime and overflight rights and freedoms on a worldwide basis on international waters. The area in the South China Sea is one of questionable sovereignty as the Chinese stake claim to portions of the sea while Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan also make claims to the area.
Though, the flight was an alleged “accident.” China’s defense ministry says that the bomber was warned multiple times to leave the area. Therefore, the Chinese are calling the maneuver by the bomber a “provocation” and want the United States “to immediately adopt measures to put an end to such kind of dangerous actions, in order not to impact the two countries’ military relations.” If the bomber did fly into the area as a “provocation,” it wouldn’t be the first time that the U.S. made a bold move on the questionable Chinese territory.
In October, the U.S. guided missile destroyer USS Lassen sailed within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef as part of a deliberate mission to “challenge” the territorial claims of China. The move came as the United States pointed out that under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea the Chinese could not put a 12 nautical mile limit on any man-made island built upon a submerged reef.
“Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, 12-nautical mile limits cannot be set around man-made islands built on previously submerged reefs.”
Though the U.S. pointed out that issue with the Chinese 12-nautical mile rule, the Chinese government was not happy with the destroyer’s presence and called the move “irresponsible.” With the territorial issues ongoing, the United States will likely stay close to the man-made islands, as fears that China plans to use the area for military purposes continue. Satellite images taken of the islands seem to show military complexes being built on the three islands. The Spratlys may be up for debate in the international community but China says they have “indisputable” rights to the islands and plan to ensure the 12 nautical mile rules are followed.
What do you think about the U.S. B-52 bomber getting so close to the Spratly islands? Was the U.S. trying to provoke China and test their territorial limits?
[Image via USAF/Getty Images]