The Pentagon had to send two strategic bombers flying near Chinese-built islands in the South China Sea to demonstrate its right to international space over the contested region. China, meanwhile, only needed to switch their lighthouses on to prove its sovereignty.
Two U.S. B52 strategic bombers were contacted by Chinese ground controllers as it flew near the artificial islands in the South China Sea in the night between Nov. 8 to 9. The U.S. bombers flew “in the area” of the Spratly Islands outside of the 12-nautical-mile zones claimed by China.
“We conduct B-52 flights in international air space in that part of the world all the time,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said as quoted by Reuters.
Commander Bill Urban, a Pentagon spokesman said the bombers pursued their mission even after being contacted by Chinese ground controllers. Urban further explained that the B-52s were on a routine mission in the South China Sea. They departed and returned to Guam.
China created islands that span to at least 2,900 acres of land, triple the size of New York’s Central Park. They were built on areas which were previously submerged during high tides. This is where the problem arises. China now claims sovereignty over these new terrains. But as pointed out by Bloomberg, under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, such terrains do not warrant a 12-mile territorial zone.
China however remains adamant and through the years built lighthouses over the disputed region under the guise that it wants to help ships navigating the area. In October, it finished perching lighthouses on the reefs of the Paracel islands the Spratly’s, claiming that these facilities among many other it builds will provide bases for research and rescue operations.
Alexander Sullivan, an associate fellow at the center for a New American Security in Washington, told Bloomberg that by building facilities of any kind that serve the public in the South China Sea will make quite a boost to China’s claim of sovereignty. “Doing things like building lighthouses as opposed to runways or barracks allows them to make the argument they are providing public goods,” Sullivan told Bloomberg.
James Kraska expressed the same opinion. “China has pledged to make these facilities available to all ships, and so this very much plays into that idea that they are just proving a public service to the international maritime community. The lighthouses, along with all of the other infrastructure they are putting on these features, at least in China’s mind, will buttress their claims,” Krask explained.