BEIJING (Reuters) - China's air force conducted its first drill above the western Pacific Ocean on Monday, the Defense Ministry said, in a move that could exacerbate tensions with its South China Sea neighbors including Taiwan and the Philippines.
People's Liberation Army aircraft conducted exercises over the western Pacific Ocean after they flew over the Bashi Channel, said Shen Jinke, an air force spokesman. The channel is located between Taiwan and the Philippines, and is claimed by both.
The ministry showed photos of long-range bombers sitting on the tarmac along with their crews. The jets returned the same day, it said.
This marks the first time the air force has conducted drills in airspace so far from China's coast, the official Xinhua news agency reported. Shen said the exercises were in line with what other "major countries" regularly carry out.
China's increasingly assertive stance in the disputed waters of the South China Sea has unnerved many of its neighbors. Beijing claims almost the entire sea, which could contain huge deposits of oil and gas. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan have competing claims.
(Reporting By Megha Rajagopalan; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)