Chinese military aircraft landed for the first time at at a new airport on Fiery Cross Reef, an island China has built in the disputed South China Sea. While the military aircraft made its maiden landing in the new airport, it has raised the prospect of China making it a military base for fighter jets.
It is speculated that China has been constructing artificial islands in the South China Seas for military purposes even though China claims otherwise. China has come under serious criticism for its ambitious stance in the South China seas. The US And other countries have condemned the constructions of these islands for long and the issue was raised in several gatherings including the UN Security Council meeting.
The reason for the landing was purportedly to evacuate three seriously ill workers from the island. The People’s Liberation Army Daily said on its front page that a military aircraft on patrol over the South China Sea on Sunday had received an emergency call to land at Fiery Cross Reef to transport the workers back to Hainan Island for treatment.
United States had voiced concerns over the landing of military aircraft in the disputed territory and has asked China to clear why a military aircraft was used, instead of civil aircraft, given the use of shifting ill workers. Pentagon spokesperson Capt. Jeff Davis said in a statement that China needs to reaffirm that it has no plans to use military aircraft in the disputed region.
China has been building the runway at Fiery Cross Reef for more than a year by dredging sand. The runway is one of three and is 3,000 meters long. Its civil testing began in January.
This is the first time that China’s military has publicly admitted landing an aircraft on Fiery Cross Reef, the influential Global Times tabloid said. It cited an military expert as saying the flight showed the airfield was up to military standards and that fighter jets based there in the event of war was a distinct possibility now.
The runways are long enough to handle long-range bombers and transport aircraft as well as China’s best jet fighters, raising the prospects of a military base deep in the maritime heart of Southeast Asia that China has lacked until now.
More than $5 trillion of world trade is shipped through the South China Sea every year. Besides China’s territorial claims in the area, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have rival claims over the disputed region.