This photo taken on May 5 shows ships of China’s South Sea Fleet taking part in a drill at the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. Picture: AFP
This photo taken on May 5 shows ships of China’s South Sea Fleet taking part in a drill at the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. Picture: AFP

Washington — US warplanes have flown over the disputed South China Sea, the US Air Force said on Friday, a move aimed at asserting freedom of navigation rights in the hotly contested area.

The flights come as both US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping attend the Group of 20 (G-20) meeting in Hamburg.

A US B1-B bomber and two F-15 fighters with the Japan Air Self-Defense Force left Guam’s Andersen Air Force Base and flew over the neighbouring East China Sea late on Thursday, the US’s Pacific Air Forces’ public affairs office said.

This is "the first time US Pacific Command-directed B-1B Lancers have conducted combined training with JASDF fighters at night," the statement read.

When the bilateral operations concluded, "the B-1Bs proceeded to the South China Sea before returning to Andersen Air Force Base," the statement read.

It was not immediately clear when or if a second US B1-B bomber joined for the South China Sea leg of the operation.

The mission "demonstrates how the US will continue to exercise the rights of freedom of navigation anywhere international law allows," the US statement read.

"Flying and training at night with our allies in a safe, effective manner is an important capability shared between the US and Japan," said Maj Ryan Simpson, Pacific Air Forces chief of bomber operations.

The joint military flight demonstrates US-Japanese "solidarity … to defend against provocative and destabiliSing actions in the Pacific theatre," the statement added.

Beijing claims nearly all of the South China Sea, parts of which are also claimed by Taiwan and Southeast Asian nations including the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam.

China has rapidly built reefs in the area into artificial islands capable of hosting military aircraft.

China also lays claim to tiny islands in the East China Sea between Japan and the Korean peninsula, and between Japan and Taiwan.

AFP

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