News reports in Taiwan said Tuesday that the massive bombers flew over the Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the Philippines before flying as close as 250 kilometers to the Chinese coastal province of Guangdong. The Chinese mainland would have been well within the range of the aircraft's cruise missiles at that distance.
The legacy B-52 aircraft stationed at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, conducted some type of mission over the strategic waterway this past week, a spokeswoman for US Pacific Air Forces confirmed Friday to Stars and Stripes. The news outlet said two bombers participated in a training mission with F-15C Eagle air superiority aircraft.
On Thursday, a Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson told reporters, "the situation is under the control of the Chinese military. The [People's Liberation Army] will, as always, firmly safeguard its national sovereignty or territorial integrity."
The nominee to become the next commander of US Pacific Command, Admiral Philip Davidson, said in written testimony delivered to the Senate Armed Services Committee in April that "in short, China is now capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios short of war with the United States."
"Once [artificial military islands are] occupied, China will be able to extend its influence thousands of miles to the south and project power deep into Oceania," Davidson said of China's forward operating bases in the regional waters.
"The PLA will be able to use these bases to challenge the US presence in the region and any forces deployed to the islands would easily overwhelm the military forces of any other South China Sea claimants," the admiral noted.
Trillions of dollars of goods transit the South China Sea annually on cargo ships. The South China Sea has a slew of reefs, islets, maritime features and hydrocarbon deposits that are claimed by disputing parties including China, Taiwan, Brunei, the Philippines, and Vietnam.