The U.S. Air Force will continue to conduct missions in and over the South China Sea, the top Air Force officer in the Pacific said Tuesday — despite China’s military buildup and its foreign minister’s recent insistence that freedom of navigation in the region has its limits.
“We’ve watched the increased military capability on those islands, whether it’s the fighters, whether it’s the missiles or the 10,000-foot runways. We will continue to do as we’ve always done, and that is fly and sail in international airspace in accordance to international rules and norms,” Gen. Lori Robinson said Tuesday in Canberra, Australia, according to The Associated Press.
China maintains an ambiguous claim to about 90 percent of the South China Sea, a position that puts it at odds with several of its neighbors over rights to the small islands there, and with the United States over transit through international waters. Over the past two years, China has added to the sea about 3,000 acres of landfill to reefs and rocks, some of which now host self-propelled artillery and airfields capable of supporting a variety of military aircraft.
Despite China’s objections, the U.S. has continued flying its planes over the region and sailing its military ships through the international waters. Earlier this week, the USS John C. Stennis carrier strike group left the South China Sea, where it conducted what the Navy deemed as routine operations.
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