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Four American B-1 Lancers, two B-2 Spirit Stealth Bombers and four F-15C Eagles were deployed to Japanese territory amid a tense period of sharply deteriorating relations between Beijing and the US. The Pacific Air Forces said in a statement it “routinely conducts Bomber Task Force operations to show the United States’ commitment to allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific area of responsibility”.
The countries participating have raised concerns about China’s attempts to push its control over waterways and critical routes.
General Ken Wilsbach, Pacific Air Forces commander, added: “Our unique strength as an air force is our ability to generate integrated actions with our joint teammates and allies and partners to challenge competitors in a time and place of our choosing.”
It comes as tension in the region increases as Beijing and Washington conduct separate military drills in the resource-rich South China Sea as relations between the world’s two largest economies quickly deteriorate.
Experts have warned the Indo-Pacific region is heading towards a dangerous crisis.
Both Kurt Campbell, former Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and the Pacific and Ali Wyne from the Atlantic Council, said eroding ties between the US and China have made the tensions “even more conducive to inadvertent escalation”.
Dr William Choong, a senior fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, said: “You can’t divorce China and RIMPAC from the broader tensions in the Sino-US relationship.”
A two-year-long trade dispute between the world’s two largest economies heightened in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic and China’s imposition of a new national security law in Hong Kong.
Both sides traded threats and sanctions on individuals and businesses, such as Chinese video platform TikTok.
China this month sent fighter jets across the mid-line of the Taiwan Strait at the same time the US health chief Alex Azar visited the island to offer President Donald Trump’s support.
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China, which claims the island as its own, condemned the visit and threatened unspecified retaliation to the trip before Mr Azar met Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen.
The Asian nuclear giant has also stepped up its military activity near Taiwan and has never renounced the use of force to bring it under its control.
Beijing also threatened to apply sanctions against 11 US citizens including officials in response to Washington’s move to impose sanctions on 11 Hong Kong and Chinese officials whom it accused of curtailing political freedoms in the city.
Meanwhile, Japan sent a warning shot to China ruling it “must strengthen” its armed forces to combat growing aggression from its historic foe.
Tokyo revealed it is considering a huge increase to its defence capabilities as it accused China of pushing territorial claims.The East Asia nation released its annual defence review, where it said Beijing has been pushing its territorial claims amid the coronavirus pandemic.
But signs of improving relations between the US and China could be imminent after the Chinese commerce ministry said on Thursday the nations had agreed to hold trade talks “in the coming days” to evaluate the progress of their Phase 1 trade deal six months after it took effect in February.
They followed Tuesday’s remarks by White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows that no new high-level trade talks were scheduled, though both sides were in touch about implementing the Phase 1 deal.
The deal, reached on January 5 was seen as a major breakthrough but ties have quickly soured in recent months.
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