China claims it has historic right of ownership to almost the entire South China Sea, despite a 2016 international arbitration ruling saying Beijing’s claim had no legal basis under international law. But the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also have overlapping claims to parts of it. DWF’s Head of Transport, Jonathan Moss, has explained that there is a real risk of further conflict in the waters.
Speaking to Express.co.uk, Mr Moss said: “I think there’s definitely a risk of all-out conflict.
“There’s been pockets of conflict before; going back about 20 years there was a naval battle where three Chinese vessels were engaged with the Phillipines Navy gunboats.
“That was in Spratly Islands.
“There’s definitely the risk of isolated incidents and as we know, a string of isolated incidents can lead to major conflict.
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“It should be on the radar as a danger.”
It comes as two US Air Force B-1B bombers took off from Guam and headed west over the Pacific Ocean to the hotly contested South China Sea.
The sleek jets made a low-level pass over the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and its escorting fleet, which was exercising nearby in the Philippines Sea, according to images released by the US military.
The operation was part of the Trump administration’s intensifying challenge to China’s ruling Communist Party and its sweeping territorial claims over one of the world’s most important strategic waterways.
While senior Trump officials launch diplomatic and rhetorical broadsides at Beijing, the US Defense Department is turning to the firepower of its heavily armed, long-range bombers as it seeks to counter Beijing’s bid to control the seas off the Chinese coast.
Since late January, American B-1B and B-52 bombers, usually operating in pairs, have flown about 20 missions over key waterways, including the South China Sea, the East China Sea and the Sea of Japan, according to accounts of these flights from US Air Force statements and official social media posts.
These missions, military analysts say, are designed to send a crystal-clear signal: The United States can threaten China’s fleet and Chinese land targets at any time, from distant bases, without having to move America’s aircraft carriers and other expensive surface warships within range of Beijing’s massive arsenal of missiles.
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In this response to the growing power of China’s military, the Pentagon has combined some of its oldest weapons with some of its newest: Cold War-era bombers and cutting-edge, stealthy missiles.
Chinese and western military strategists warn that a conflict between the two nuclear-armed powers could be difficult to contain.
In a clash with China, this fast response from the bomber force could be vital while the US and its allies rush naval reinforcements to the Pacific to bolster the vastly outnumbered U.S. naval fleet stationed in the region, according to current and former US and other Western military officers.
A spokeswoman for Pacific Air Forces, Captain Veronica Perez, said the US Air Force had increased its publicity about its bomber missions to assure allies and partners of Washington’s commitment to global security, regional stability and a free and open Indo-Pacific.
She said: “Though the frequency and scope of our operations vary based on the current operating environment, the U.S. has a persistent military presence and routinely operates throughout the Indo-Pacific.”