A Pentagon spokesman said Saturday that two B-52 bombers did not intentionally fly near a Chinese man-made island in the South China Sea last week.
China accused the United States of conducting a "serious military provocation" by flying the planes over the island December 10 and said the U.S. action was leading to "militarizing conditions" between the two nations.
But Pentagon spokesman Mark Wright said in an email to the Associated Press that there was "no intention of flying within 12 nautical miles of any feature."
"The United States routinely conducts B-52 training missions throughout the region, including over the South China Sea,'' Wright's email read. "These missions are designed to maintain readiness and demonstrate our commitment to fly, sail and operate anywhere allowed under international law.''
That echoed a statement made Friday by U.S. Navy Commander Bill Urban, who said the Navy regularly conducts training missions in the region but that the flight was not a "freedom of navigation" operation, suggesting it could have strayed off course.
Freedom of navigation operations are missions conducted to challenge what the U.S. believes are excessive territorial claims made by other countries.
China has claimed sovereignty over all its man-made islands in the South China Sea.
China, which also claims almost the entire South China Sea, has stepped up a program of land reclamation and construction in the disputed islands and reefs, which has sparked concern in the U.S. and the Asia-Pacific region.
During his visit to the White House this year, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged not to militarize the artificial islands.
“Relevant construction activities that China is undertaking in the islands of South Nansha Islands [Spratly Islands] do not target or impact any country, and China does not intend to pursue militarization,” Xi said.
The Obama administration assured Congress it would work hard to stop militarization of the disputed islands.
'Concerned' about actions
“The majority of the region is concerned about the actions taking place in the South China Sea. We are looking to ensure that there is a regional consensus to ensure that there is no further militarization of these outposts. That is our goal,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Michael Fuchs said.
The United States has called for a halt to China's artificial island building, and recently has tried to show its determination by sending the military ship USS Lassen into the 22-kilometer zone of some disputed reefs.
U.S. military aircraft also have made routine flights in international airspace in the disputed area.
China has repeatedly said, in Xi’s words, it is “committed to respecting and upholding the freedom of navigation and overflight that countries enjoy according to international law.”