China conducts test flight from airstrip in South China Sea
Vietnam says considers action serious infringement
China has defended conducting a test flight on a newly built airfield on reclaimed land in disputed waters in the South China Sea after objections from Vietnam.
Hua Chunying, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, said Saturday that a civilian aircraft used by the Chinese government conducted a test flight at the new airport on Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands.
Hua said the activity is “entirely within the range of China’s sovereignty concerns.”
Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it considered the action a serious infringement of the sovereignty of Vietnam on the Spratly Islands and asked China to not to repeat the flight.
Japan also expressed concern Monday, with Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida saying such acts “don’t contribute to the peaceful settlement of the dispute” and “should be avoided.”
Dotted with small islands, reefs and shoals, the South China Sea is home to a messy territorial dispute that pits multiple countries against each other.
In the past two years, the United States says China has reclaimed some 2,000 acres of land — equivalent to 1,500 football fields – in a massive dredging operation, turning tiny sandbars into islands equipped with airfields, ports and lighthouses.
While China is not the only country to have an airstrip in the disputed waters, it’s the only country to have one capable of handling a bomber.
The U.S. has called for “an immediate and lasting” halt to the island building.
In September, Beijing summoned the U.S. ambassador after a U.S. warship sailed within 12 nautical miles of reefs claimed by Beijing.
In May, a U.S. surveillance plane carrying a CNN crew flew over some of the artificial islands, triggering eight warnings from the Chinese navy to back off.
READ: Satellite images suggest China ‘building third airstrip’ in South China Sea
CNN’s Chieu Luu in Hong Kong and Junko Ogura in Tokyo contributed to this report