China complains about US plane straying into disputed airspace – CNN

Cui Tiankai, the Chinese ambassador to the United States, told CNN the U.S. operation in October was “a very serious provocation, politically and militarily.”

Speaking Friday about the most recent incident involving the U.S. airplane, Bill Urban, a U.S. Defense Department spokesman, said the flight was not meant to provoke the Chinese.”There was no intention of flying within 12 nautical miles of any feature,” he said in a statement. “This was not a freedom of navigation operation.”

He said the United States routinely conducts B-52 training missions over the South China Sea.

“These missions are designed to maintain readiness and demonstrate our commitment to fly, sail and operate anywhere allowed under international law,” he said.

Tensions have ratcheted up since China reclaimed some 2,000 acres of land in a massive dredging operation, turning sandbars into islands equipped with airfields, ports and lighthouses. The work started in 2014 on three main reefs in the Spratly Islands — Fiery Cross, Subi and Mischief Reef.

The new islands created friction with the United States, which sails and flies its assets in the vicinity of the reclaimed islands, citing international law and freedom of movement.

Last May, the United States flew over the islands, triggering warnings from the Chinese navy. In October, the Lassen incident occurred.

When China complained, a Defense Department official told CNN: “We will fly, sail and operate anywhere in the world that international law allows. U.S. Freedom of Navigation operations are global in scope and executed against a wide range of excessive maritime claims, irrespective of the coastal state advancing the excessive claim.”

China’s neighbors complained about the islands, too. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam all dispute sovereignty of several island chains and nearby waters in the South China Sea.

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