A U.S. official said on Tuesday that a Chinese H-6 strategic bomber flew around the Spratly Islands at the weekend in a new show of force in the contested South China Sea.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that it was the second such flight by a Chinese bomber in the South China Sea this year. The first was on Jan. 1.
He added that the flight could be considered as a show of “strategic force” by the Chinese.
It comes following U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s indication of a sterner approach to China when he takes office on Jan. 20, with tweets panning Beijing for its trade practices and blaming it for failing to help restrain nuclear-armed North Korea.
Pentagon spokesman Commander Gary Ross said he had no particular comment on China’s latest bomber activities, but added: “we continue to observe a range of ongoing Chinese military activity in the region.”
In December, China flew an H-6 bomber down the “nine-dash line” it uses to chart its entitlement to almost all of the South China Sea, a strategic global trade route. That flight also went across Taiwan, which China regards as a renegade province.
China conducted “combat patrols” in August adjacent disputed islands in the South China Sea.
Trump has infuriated Beijing by disregarding decades of U.S. policy and conversing to the Taiwanese president by telephone.
On Sunday, a state-run Chinese broadsheet cautioned Donald Trump that China would “take revenge” if he backs out on the U.S. one-China policy, merely hours following the Taiwan president’s controversial stopover in Houston.
China said last week that a collection of Chinese warships headed by its sole aircraft carrier was putting their weapons and equipment to the test in exercises this week in the South China Sea. Regional states claim territories in the area.