Updated 6 minutes ago
Two US B-52 strategic bombers flying near Chinese manmade islands in the South China Sea recently were contacted by Chinese ground controllers but continued their mission undeterred, the Pentagon said.
"We conduct B-52 flights in international air space in that part of the world all the time," Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook told a briefing.
In the latest mission, which occurred overnight on November 8 and 9, the bombers flew "in the area" of the Spratly Islands but did not come within the 12-nautical-mile zones that China claims as its territory, Pentagon spokesman Commander Bill Urban said.
"The B-52s were on a routine mission in the SCS (South China Sea)," taking off from and returning to Guam, Mr Urban said.
Chinese ground controllers contacted the bombers but the aircraft continued their mission unabated, he said.
The latest US patrol in the disputed South China Sea occurred in advance of president Barack Obama's visit to the region next week to attend Asia-Pacific summits where he is expected the re-assert Washington's commitment to freedom of navigation and overflight in the area.
See how China is converting reefs to military facilities by building artificial islands in the South China Sea.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said he did not know whether the South China Sea would be on the formal agenda at any of the three Asia summits, but added it would be "on the minds and lips" of world leaders who gather there.
China claims most of the South China Sea through which more than $5 trillion in global trade passes every year, and the US has said it will continue conducting patrols to assure unimpeded passage.
Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have rival claims in the region.
Last week, a top US admiral said in Beijing the US military would continue to operate wherever international law allows after infuriating China by sailing close to artificial islands it is building in the South China Sea.
"The South China Sea is not — and will not — be an exception," he said.
In late October, the USS Lassen guided missile destroyer travelled within 12 nautical miles of at least one of the land formations China claims in the disputed Spratly Islands.
The US and Chinese navies recently held high-level talks after the challenge, with a US official saying they have agreed to maintain dialogue to avoid clashes.
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