A Chinese bomber has flown around the contested Spratly Islands in the South China Sea in an apparent show of force, according to a U.S. official.
The strategic Xian H-6 bomber was detected flying around the island chain and other features—disputed by Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, and China—over the weekend. It was the second such flight around the South China Sea in 2017, with the first taking place on Jan. 1, the unnamed official told Reuters on Wednesday.
The official said the flight was likely a show of “strategic force” by the Chinese regime.
The Spratlys are important for strategic and economic reasons, as it holds unexplored reserves of natural gas and oil, has fishing grounds, and has busy commercial shipping routes.
Taiwan, China, and Vietnam have made claims on the islands based on historical sovereignty. The Philippines has claimed part of the area under an agreement.
Last month, satellite photos revealed Beijing fortified its Spratly Island reefs with gun towers and anti-aircraft installations. All seven of China’s artificial islands in the South China Sea are fortified with arms, News.com.au reported. The Chinese Defense Ministry wrote in a statement last month about the fortified islands, saying: “As for necessary military facilities, they are primarily for defense and self-protection, and this is proper and legitimate.”
Commander Gary Ross, a Pentagon spokesman, told Reuters that he had no comment on China’s recent warplane activities in the area. But he added: “We continue to observe a range of ongoing Chinese military activity in the region.”