The Chinese air force has landed long-range, nuclear-capable bombers for the first time at an airport in the South China Sea, a state newspaper said Saturday, in a move likely to further fuel concerns about Beijing's expansive claims over the disputed region. The China Daily newspaper says that the People's Liberation Army Air Force conducted takeoff and landing training with the H-6K bomber in the South China Sea, the AP and Guardian report. The bomber also carried out at least one simulated strike on a target at sea. The assault training was done "in order to improve our ability to 'reach all territory, conduct strikes at any time and strike in all directions,'" the Chinese air force says.
The training also helped prepare for "the west Pacific and the battle for the South China Sea," the air force adds. The report didn't say exactly where or when the exercise took place. China is pitted against smaller neighbors in multiple disputes in the South China Sea over islands, coral reefs, and lagoons in waters crucial for global commerce and rich in fish and potential oil and gas reserves. The US criticized the move: "The United States remains committed to a free and open Indo-Pacific," a Pentagon spokesman says. "We have seen these same reports and China's continued militarization of disputed features in the South China Sea only serves to raise tensions and destabilize the region."
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