China has for the first time landed strategic bombers on an island in the disputed South China Sea, drawing sharp reaction from the US which said that the move will "raise tensions and destabilise the region".
China's air force said that its fighter jets, including an H-6K bomber, had recently conducted take-off and landing training on an island reef in the resource-rich South China Sea (SCS).
The training had elevated the air force's abilities of "reaching its full territory, assaulting in full time and space, and striking in full scope", the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post quoted the People's Liberation Air Force (PLAF) as saying.
Wang Minliang, a military expert, was quoted as saying that the bombers' take-off and landing training was "beneficial to enhance the real combat ability against all kinds of security threats in the sea".
People's Daily, the Chinese Communist Party's official newspaper, yesterday posted a video on its Twitter account featuring a series of the H-6K's training programmes, including take-off, landing and flying.
The Chinese move invoked sharp reaction from the US which said that it will "raise tensions and destabilise the region".
A spokesman at the Pentagon, Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Logan, called the exercise an act of "China's continued militarisation of disputed features in the South China Sea", the Post report said.
Bonnie Glaser, a China security expert at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said the location of the H-6K landing was believed to be Woody Island ? Yongxing island in Chinese ? on which China's Sansha city government is located.
China had established Sansha City, a prefecture-level city of Hainan Province, in 2012 to administer the South China Sea islands identified by China as Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha island groups and their surrounding waters.
"I believe this is the first time a bomber has landed in the South China Sea. No doubt the H-6K will soon land on an island in Spratly (Islands) since hangers there are built to accommodate bombers," the Post quoted Glaser as saying.
In early May, the US said that it was prepared to take measures against militarisation of the South China Sea, after Beijing reportedly installed new missiles on outposts in the Spratly Islands ? known in China as the Nansha Islands ? that are also claimed by Vietnam and the Philippines.
China claims almost all of the South China Sea but Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have counter claims.
The US is periodically deploying its naval ships and fighter planes to assert freedom of navigation.