International tensions over the South China Sea escalated Wednesday as China fired two medium-range missiles into the sea as a warning to the U.S.
The move came the day after China accused the U.S. of flying a Lockheed U-2 spy plane over a live-fire drill the Chinese navy was conducting in the region. In recent weeks, the U.S. has deployed ships and aircraft to the region to keep a close eye on Chinese military activity.
The first missile, categorized as a DF-26B, was launched from the northwestern province of Qinghai. It has a range of 2,485 miles and can be equipped with nuclear warheads. The second missile, a DF-21D, came from Zhejiang province in eastern China. While it only has a range of 1,118 miles, the Chinese government has claimed it is an advance anti-ship weapon capable of destroying an aircraft carrier.
The U.S. confirmed a flight in the region, but denied violating any "no-fly" rules or treaties.
"A U-2 sortie was conducted in the Indo-Pacific area of operations and within the accepted international rules and regulations governing aircraft flights," U.S. Pacific Air Forces said in a statement to CNN. "Pacific Air Forces personnel will continue to fly and operate anywhere international law allows, at the time and tempo of our choosing."
The U.S. on Wednesday also blacklisted 24 Chinese companies and a number of individuals that are connected to military and construction projects being carried out in the disputed islands of the oil-rich South China Sea.
"The United States, China's neighbors, and the international community have rebuked the CCP's sovereignty claims to the South China Sea and have condemned the building of artificial islands for the Chinese military," said U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
According to a Department of Commerce report, the Chinese government has created more than 3,000 acres of artificial islands in the region in the last seven years, outfitting them with military bases and missile defense stations.
Vietnam also released a statement Wednesday, condemning the Chinese drills near the Paracel Islands as a violation of its sovereignty.
Greg Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative and a fellow at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that the missile firing was a calculated move.
"As with most of China's foreign policy lately, it seems intended to signal strength to the domestic audience and smaller neighbors, not actually tell the US anything it didn't already know," Poling said. "Beijing was careful to do it within acceptable limits – firing into undisputed waters off the southern coast with due notice."