WASHINGTON — Chinese officials warned a US military aircraft flying near South Korea Sunday, telling its pilots that they were illegally operating in Chinese airspace and ordering the American plane to leave, a US defense official told CNN.
The pilots of the US Air Force B-1B Lancer bomber aircraft responded to the Chinese air traffic controllers, saying that they were conducting routine operations in international airspace and did not deviate from their flight path, the official added.
The US plane was flying 70 nautical miles southwest of South Korea’s Jeju Island.
The area sits in the controversial Chinese East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone, which Beijing declared in 2013. The zone covers airspace and islands that are also claimed by Japan.
The ADIZ declaration required airlines flying over the designated waters to first notify Chinese authorities before transiting. The US and Japanese governments do not recognize China’s claim on the area.
According to the US Air Force, the Guam-based B-1 bomber was conducting a series of bilateral training missions with Japanese and South Korean military aircraft.
“Our increased cooperation enables our combined forces to rapidly react to counter aggression against Japan and other allies and partners,” said US Maj. Ryan Simpson, the Pacific Air Forces bomber operations chief said in a statement announcing the training mission.