(CNN)China says it has landed long-range bombers for the first time on an island in the South China Sea, the latest in a series of maneuvers putting Beijing at odds with its neighbors and Washington over China's growing military presence around disputed islands.
China tests bombers on South China Sea island
The People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) announced on Friday it successfully organized the takeoff and landing of several bombers, including the nuclear-capable H-6K, on an unspecified island. The PLA claimed the mission was a part of China's aim to achieve a broader regional reach, quicker mobilization, and greater strike capabilities.
"The islands in the South China Sea are China's territory," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said in a statement Monday. "The relevant military activities are normal trainings and other parties shouldn't over-interpret them.
"As for the so-called militarization mentioned by the US, what we do is fundamentally different from the US sending its military aircraft and warships from thousands of miles away to this region and posing a threat to other countries."
A military expert, Wang Mingliang, was quoted in the statement as saying the training will hone the Chinese air force's war-preparation skills and its ability to respond to various security threats in the region, where China claims large swathes of territory.
The South China Sea is one of the most contested regions in the world, with overlapping territorial claims by multiple countries including the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam.
Over the past few years China has been rapidly transforming various reefs and inlets into artificial islands to install military infrastructure. Some experts have called them "unsinkable aircraft carriers."
A Twitter post by the Chinese Communist Party's official newspaper, People's Daily, shows video of a long-range bomber taking off, flying, and landing on one of the islands. Analysts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) said it was thought to be Woody Island, China's largest base in the Paracel Islands and the only one with an airstrip long enough to allow bomber landings.