China warns of military conflict risk as US steps up warplane flights over South China Sea

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The flyovers came with increased military operations by both the US Navy and Air Force in the South China Sea, East China Sea, the Taiwan Strait and the Yellow Sea this year. China has warned of a growing risk of military conflict between the two countries. The US Pacific Air Forces said B-1 bombers conducted a mission in the South China Sea just days after training with the US Navy near Hawaii.

Risks of military conflict cannot be ruled out in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait

Song Zhongping

A spokesman said the warplanes were “demonstrating the credibility of US air forces to address a diverse and uncertain security environment”.

Li Jie, a military specialist based in Beijing, said the US was trying to keep up strategic deterrence, with the US Air Force conducting 11 flights in March and 13 in April over the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea.

He said: “Obviously, decision makers in the Pentagon are trying to use the bombers as a new tool in its strategic deterrence against China.

“We will see intensified B-1 interference into airspace over the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea in May.”

Mr Li said two B-1B bombers flew over the East China Sea and also flew over the waters off the coast of northeast Taiwan on May 6.

Zhu Feng, director of international studies at Nanjing University, said tensions in the South China Sea had become increasingly “tense and turbulent” in the past three months and were closely linked to political and diplomatic conflict between the two countries.

The US Air Force deployed four B-1B bombers and about 200 airmen from Texas to the Andersen Air Force Base in Guam on May 1.

A spokesman said the mission was to support Pacific Air Forces and to conduct training and operations with allies and partners.

The US Air Force sent two B-1B Lancers for a 32-hour round-trip flight over the South China Sea on April 29.

It rotated B-1, B-2 and B-52 bombers, the three strategic bombers in the US air force fleet, among other military aircraft to fly over the contested waters near China.

Song Zhongping, a Hong Kong-based military affairs commentator, said the frequent flyovers of B-1 and B-52 jets were not only to display the US military presence but were exercises looking ahead to potential battles of the future.

He said: “The B-1, replacing B-52, needs to fly around the waters to know the battlefield conditions well.

“China and the US are entering into a full-fledged competition and the situation is grimmer than the US-Soviet Union Cold War.

“Risks of military conflict cannot be ruled out in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait. And they are increasing.”

On May 14, the Chinese navy started an 11-week military exercise in waters off the northern port city of Tangshan in the Yellow Sea.

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The US sent a warship through the Taiwan Strait on the same day, marking the sixth passage of the strait by a US Navy vessel this year.

The US Indo-Pacific Command the US Navy had conducted a mine warfare training exercise in the East China Sea.

China is also upgrading its military strength in the region.

It put two new upgraded nuclear-powered strategic submarines into service last month and it is also considering the launch of a new generation of strategic bomber, the Xian H-20 supersonic stealth bomber, possibly within this year.

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