US BOMBER jets were seen hurtling across the contested South China Sea this week, in a move Beijing could interpret as highly provocative as tensions between the two nations continue to escalate.
Relations between the two largest economies in the world have turned increasingly sour in recent months as US President Donald Trump persists in waging an economic trade war with the Chinese.
This week the US Air Force conducted B-52 bomber flights over the disputed South China Sea region, in what is likely to incense Chinese President Xi-Jinping amid the relentless punitive trade tariffs Trump is slapping on the Asian superpower.
A total of four B-52 fighter aircraft could be seen traversing through the skies over the disputed sea on Monday.
A second wave tore across the East China Sea on Tuesday.
Lieutenant Colonel Dave Eastburn said on Wednesday the bombers were participating in a “regularly scheduled, combined operation” that was part of “routine events designed to enhance our readiness and interoperability with our partners and allies in the region”.
The military official added: “The United States military will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows at times and places of our choosing.”
Japanese fighter jets escorted the bombers on Tuesday as the military aircraft made their way through the Diaoyu Islands, according to CNN.
Japan controls the desolate islands but China has claimed them as its own.
US-China tensions: pictured is a B52 bomber similar to ones the US flew over the South China Sea
Trump gave an extraordinary press conference at the UN General Assembly in New York on Wednesday
US Defence Secretary James Mattis spoke about the fly-bys to reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday.
Mr Mattis claimed the flights were “nothing out of the ordinary”.
He said: “That just goes on. If it was 20 years ago and had China not militarised those features there, it would have been just another bomber on its way to Diego Garcia or wherever.”
The US uses Diego Garcia, the largest island on the Chagos Archipelago, as a military base in the region.