Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) H-6G and H-6J bombers practiced nighttime takeoffs and long-range bombing runs in military drills over the contested South China Sea.
China’s defense ministry confirmed the bomber attack drills in a statement to The South China Morning Post on Thursday. The drills come amid a growing number of Chinese and U.S. moves and countermoves in the South China Sea.
Chinese military spokesman Ren Guoqiang said the bomber drills were part of the Chinese military’s regular training operations, though the training also comes days after two U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups passed through the South China Sea.
As he spoke with the South China Morning Post, Ren said China has “indisputable sovereignty” in the South China Sea and said the recent U.S. Navy drills, carried out by the USS Ronald Reagan and USS Nimitz carrier groups were evidence of America’s “hegemonic attitude” in the region.
“We demand the U.S. side stop issuing wrongful remarks, stop its provocative military actions in the South China Sea and stop sowing discord among countries in the region,” Ren said.
Ren did not specify when and where exactly the bomber drills took place.
The Chinese H-6 bombers are capable of carrying anti-ship missiles and Collin Koh, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, told The South China Morning Post the bombers may have been training for scenarios including “maritime strikes on U.S. Navy carrier strike groups.”
China and other countries hold overlapping claims to the South China Sea and the U.S. has continued to conduct freedom of navigation operations in the region.
China has ramped up its activity in the South China Sea in recent months, as other countries have been focused on the coronavirus pandemic.
In response to these Chinese moves, the U.S. recently filed a notice formally rejecting China’s claims to the parts of the South China Sea. In submitting the notice against China’s claims in the disputed sea region, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said “the world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire.”
The U.S. notice rejecting China’s claims in the South China Sea does let China retain its hold over the Spratly Islands but denies Chinese calls for territorial waters reaching beyond the 12 nautical miles surrounding the islands. The U.S. stance is in line with a 2016 Arbitral Tribunal ruling.
Following the U.S. move, Australia also filed a note rejecting Chinese claims in the South China Sea, joining a list of countries that include Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines.