Three American B-2 stealth bombers have arrived in the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia on the eve of Chinese live-firing naval exercises north of Taiwan.
It is the first time the nuclear-capable strategic bombers have been sent to the remote island since 2016, in an indication of the growing concern about China’s intentions towards Taiwan.
The bombers flew across the Pacific from Whiteman air force base in Missouri to land at Diego Garcia, part of the British Indian Ocean Territory. With their advanced stealth technology, the B-2s can penetrate enemy territory without alerting air-defence radars.
The US has been increasing its presence recently in the Indo-Pacific region as tension rises in Washington over China’s stance towards Taiwan and disputed islands in the South China Sea.
On August 16, China’s PLA Navy is to start two days of live-fire drills off Zhoushan Islands, an archipelago about 340 miles north of Taiwan.
The PLA recently completed a series of air force exercises near the islands. There are concerns in the West that China’s military exercises have been designed to simulate the seizing of Pratas or Dongsha Islands, three atolls administered by Taiwan at a strategic point between the South China Sea and the Pacific.
PLA Navy vessels must pass the islands to reach the Pacific. The arrival of the three bombers on Diego Garcia will remind Beijing of the US Air Force’s reach. China is yet to bring its own stealth bomber into service.
The B-2s are from the US 509th Bomb Wing, part of its Global Strike Command. When they went to Diego Garcia in 2016 it was also at a time of heightened tension with Beijing over its militarisation of the South China Sea.
The arrival of the military equipment in Diego Garcia coincided with China sending some new weapons to the Himalayas in a 15-week stand-off with Indian troops. The PLA added a wheeled howitzer and a vehicle-mounted version of the HJ-10 anti-tank missile system to drills there recently.
Twenty Indian soldiers were killed and there were undisclosed casualties on the Chinese side after fighting broke out in disputed territory on June 15.