Chinese aircraft have engaged in combat patrol maneuvers over two disputed South China Sea islands, says the country’s air force.
According to a Chinese air force spokesman, H-6K bombers and Su-30 fighters patrolled the airspace above the Islands of Nansha and Huangyan on Saturday.
Senior Colonel Shen Jinke of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) noted that the maneuvers were held to improve the air force's response to security threats.
He added that air refueling operations were also successfully held during maneuvers in which Airborne Early Warning Aircraft (AWACS) were also present.
The maneuvers included “air defense early warning maneuvers, air combat and island patrolling, in a complicated electromagnetic environment,” he noted.
Recently, tensions have increased in the region after a Hague-based court of arbitration ruled that China’s claims to sovereignty over the disputed areas in the South China Sea or its resources “had no legal basis.”
Beijing, however, has rejected the ruling in the case, which was brought by the Philippines. Beijing claims nearly all of the strategically vital South China Sea which is also claimed in part by Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines.
The dispute has at times drawn in trans-regional countries, particularly the US. China accuses the US of interfering in the regional issues and deliberately stirring up tensions in the South China Sea. Washington, in turn, accuses Beijing of carrying out what it calls a land reclamation program in the South China Sea by building artificial islands in the disputed areas.