China lands bombers on South China Sea island
China's air force has landed bombers on islands and reefs in the South China Sea as part of a training exercise in the region in what has been seen as another show of force by Beijing.
The Chinese air force said in a statement issued on Sunday, "A division of the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) recently organized multiple bombers such as the H-6K to conduct takeoff and landing training on islands and reefs in the South China Sea in order to improve our ability to reach all territory, conduct strikes at any time and strike in all directions."
The notice, published on the PLAAF's Weibo microblogging account, did not provide the precise location of the exercise.
Wang Mingliang, a defense expert cited in the Chinese statement, said the takeoff and landing exercises will help the air force "strengthen its combat capability to deal with maritime security threats"
China says its military facilities in the Spratlys islands are purely defensive.
China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, despite partial counterclaims by Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte defended his position not to confront China. "You know they have the planes, not stationed in Spratlys but near the provinces facing, Chinese provinces facing the Spratlys and the China Sea," he said in a speech late on Saturday.
"And with their hypersonic, they can reach Manila within 7 to 10 minutes. If we will go to a full-blown war, where would the Philippines end up?" Duterte said.
Reacting to developments, the Pentagon's spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Logan accused Beijing of militarizing the region.
"We have seen these same reports and China's continued militarization of disputed features in the South China Sea only serves to raise tensions and destabilize the region," Logan said, adding, "The United States remains committed to a free and open Indo-Pacific."
The United States has dispatched warships to disputed areas of the South China Sea in a bid to challenge China's extensive sovereignty claims in the territory.
China has repeatedly criticized the US military presence in the region and suspects the military drills are part of efforts to contain Beijing.