A U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress bomber takes off from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam March 13, 2018.

A U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress bomber takes off from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam March 13, 2018. (Gerald R. Willis/U.S. Air Force)

A pair of Air Force bombers flew over the South China Sea earlier this week, just days after Beijing showcased its military might in the region.

Two B-52H Stratofortresses from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, conducted the mission Tuesday while training in the area, Pacific Air Forces spokeswoman Lt. Col. Megan Schafer told Stars and Stripes in an email Friday.

The aircraft then flew to Okinawa, where they exercised with Air Force F-15C Strike Eagles before returning to Guam, she said. The bombers arrived there in January from Barksdale Air Force Base, La.

Aircraft Spots, a Twitter account that tracks military movements, reported that two bombers left Guam Tuesday headed for the South China Sea along with two KC-135R refueling aircraft. Taiwanese news outlets said they flew east of the disputed Pratas Islands and came within 150 miles of Guangdong Province’s coastline in southern China.

Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Senior Col. Wu Qian told reporters Thursday that “the situation is under the control of the Chinese military. The [People’s Liberation Army] will, as always, firmly safeguard its national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Qian added that the Chinese air force had recently conducted combat drills near Taiwan to safeguard “China’s national sovereignty” and warned of future exercises.

“The Taiwan independence secessionist activities pose the largest realistic threat to the peace and stability of the cross-strait relations and cause damage to the fundamental interests of the Taiwan compatriots,” he said.

“The series of actions we have taken are targeting the Taiwan independence forces and their activities, and are to protect the well-being of the people in Taiwan from being undermined by the Taiwan independence conspiracy.”

An editorial in China’s state-run Global Times responded to reports of the B-52 drills, saying that “the Taiwan independence forces had better abandon their dream that the U.S. can protect them. Military competition between the mainland and the U.S. in the West Pacific is not all about Taiwan. The only way for Taiwan separatists to preserve their safety is to mind their words and deeds.”

Schafer said U.S. Pacific Command’s bomber missions, which have been happening routinely since March 2004, are “intended to maintain the readiness of U.S. forces” and are “in accordance with international law.”

On Sunday a Chinese carrier group conducted a series of live-fire drills in the East China Sea, and last month a flotilla of nearly 40 Chinese ships was spotted in the South China Sea.

Beijing has laid claim to a huge swatch of the sea, and has spent the past several years building up islets and constructing military facilities, including airstrips, on them.

The Navy occasionally sails ships near the islands, which are also claimed by several neighboring countries, to reassert its right to transit freely through the region. China deems the so-called freedom-of-navigation operations illegal and provocative.

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