Two American bomber planes have flown over the disputed South China Sea in a demonstration supporting the classification of the region as international territory, which is against the wishes of China who claims the sea as its own territory. The B-1B Lancer bombers departed from Guam on Thursday en route to their symbolic path. The Chinese Defense Ministry released a statement that didn’t outright condemn the act, but said, “The Chinese military will resolutely safeguard national sovereignty and security as well as regional peace and stability.” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang expanded on the administration’s thoughts on the matter, explaining that while they have no problem with freedom of navigation over the South China Sea, “China resolutely opposes individual countries using the banner of freedom of navigation and overflight to flaunt military force and harm China’s sovereignty and security.”
The United States has in the past been critical of China asserting its dominance over the sea by building military facilities on artificial islands and reefs across the body of water. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan also have claims on parts of the sea, which makes it a source of tension in the area.
This flyover came as U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping are preparing to hold a separate one-on-one meeting during the G20 summit in Germany. In the meeting, they were expected to talk about how China should use its influence towards the control of North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs. North Korea recently held a successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile that the U.S. believes has the range to reach Alaska and Hawaii. The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, had expressed her proposal to punish countries who are financially supporting North Korea, which would theoretically include China. After this act of flying over the South China Sea, however, it’s unclear if North Korea will be the main priority of that meeting now.