China accused the United States on Saturday of committing “serious military provocation” by flying a B-52 strategic bomber over a Chinese-controlled man-made island in the South China Sea last week.
Chinese Defence Ministry claimed that the US was deliberately raising the tension in the disputed area where China has been aggressively claiming sovereignty over almost all the islands, reefs and the surrounding area near the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
"The actions by the US side constitute a serious military provocation and are rendering more complex and even militarizing conditions in the South China Sea.," Chinese Defence Ministry said in a statement.
The ministry urged Washington to immediately take measures to prevent such incidents and prevent damage to the relations between the two nations' militaries.
The incident reportedly occurred on Dec. 10 and China claimed that two B-52 bombers had entered its airspace near the reef.
The statement said that during the Dec.10 flypast, Chinese military personnel on the island was on high alert and issued warnings demanding the bomber leave the area. Necessary measures would be taken to protect China’s sovereignty and security, the ministry added.
The US has taken no official stance on sovereignty claims in the strategically crucial sea, through which 5 trillion dollars in international trade passes each year.
However, Washington has defended the freedom of navigation and maintained that China’s seven newly made islands do not enjoy the traditional rights, including 22km (12-nautical mile) territorial limit.
Pentagon has not yet made a comment on the latest Chinese accusations.
Pentagon Spokesman Cmdr. Bill Urban said in Washington that after China had raised its complaints over the flight, the US began to investigate the incident.
Urban said the flight was not a “freedom of navigation” operation, explaining that the plane may have strayed off course.
The US organises pre-planned freedom of navigation operations in an attempt to defend its rights to “innocent passage” in China’s territorial waters.
According to some critics in the US, freedom of navigation operations around the islands conflict with the assertions of Washington and that it has no right to territorial waters in the first place.
China’s warning came days after it had condemned Washington’s approval to sell arms to Taiwan.
Beijing, which assumes Taiwan as part of its territory, said that the deal should be scrapped so it does not harm relations across the Taiwan Strait and between China and the US.
Beijing made a formal diplomatic complaint on Wednesday and its foreign ministry said that it would take "necessary measures, including the imposition of sanctions against companies participating in the arms sale to Taiwan."
The Raytheon, a major American company manufacturing weapons for the military, is the main contractor behind the arms sale to Taiwan.
US defence companies are forbidden to sell arms to China.