SYDNEY, March 9 (Reuters) - The United States is in talks to base long-range bombers in Australia, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reported on Wednesday, a move that could inflame tensions with China.
Talks are underway with Australia to allow U.S. B-1 bombers and aerial tankers to be temporarily stationed in Australia’s Northern Territory, U.S. Pacific Air Forces, General Lori Robinson was quoted by the ABC - positioning U.S. military aircraft close to the disputed South China Sea.
China claims almost all of the South China Sea, but Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have overlapping claims.
Tensions between the U.S. and China have been inflamed in recent weeks.
The U.S. Navy has carried out freedom of navigation exercises, sailing near disputed islands to underscore its rights to operate in the seas.
Those patrols, and reports that China is deploying advanced missiles, fighters and radar equipment on islands there, have led Washington and Beijing to trade accusations of militarising the region.
General Robinson said the U.S. would continue to conduct exercises through the disputed waterway, the ABC quoted her as saying, while calling on Australia to conduct similar freedom of navigation exercises, the ABC said.
“We would encourage anybody in the region and around the world to fly and sail in international air space in accordance with international rules and norms” said General Robinson.
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter last week warned of “specific consequences” if China takes “aggressive” action in the region. (Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Bernard Orr)
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