KEY POINTS

  • Vietnam claims it has spotted Chinese fighter jets and bombers in the Paracel Islands
  • China continues to engage its neighbors in the South China Sea in disputes over territorial waters
  • Vietnam says the move "jeopardizes peace" in the region

China’s military has once again been spotted on the Paracel Islands, this time with air power instead of past encroachments by naval vessels, in a move the Vietnamese government says "jeopardizes peace."

Responding to reports of fighter jets and at least one bomber operating in the island chain, which is located in Vietnamese territorial waters in the South China Sea, Vietnam’s foreign ministry expressed its disapproval Thursday.

“The fact that relevant sides sent weapons and bombers … not only violates Vietnam’s sovereignty but also jeopardizes the situation in the area.” ministry spokesperson Le Thi Thu Hang said.

Hang did not disclose exactly when the bomber, thought to be the H-6J, was first spotted. However, media reports from both countries say China recently deployed H-6J bombers.

This is not the first time that the Vietnamese ministry has criticized China’s moves around the Paracels. As recently as June 1, it said that all activities of parties in two areas (the Spratlys and the Paracels) without Vietnam's permission are invalid.

China seized the Paracel Islands from South Vietnam by force in 1974 and has been occupying it since. The ministry claims that Vietnam has a full legal basis and historical evidence to assert its sovereignty over the islands, as well as rights over its waters under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

China continues to engage in a campaign to strengthen its presence in the South China Sea and has conducted exercises in the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of other countries along the sea. Some critics of China say they are doing this to take advantage of the distractions from the COVID-19 pandemic knowing that other countries with territorial claims in the sea do not have the military strength to compete with their military.

China offered no comments on this latest incident, but last month its defense ministry spokesperson Ren Guoqiang said that H-6G and H-6J bombers had participated in take-off and landing exercises, long-distance strikes, and the hitting of above the surface targets. It also has deployed survey ships, along with coastguard vessels, to waters off Vietnam and Malaysia.

Paracel-Islands This aerial view of the city of Sansha on an island in the disputed Paracel chain, which China now considers part of Hainan province on July 27, 2012. Photo: STR/AFP/GettyImages