China brushes off Vietnam’s aviation protest

 China’s South China Sea claims are not based on proximity. Source: Flickr

China has rejected a complaint from Vietnam claiming that it failed to notify Hanoi about flights to an island it has enlarged in the tense South China Sea, saying it was Chinese territory and no notification was needed.

Chinese civilian aircraft have landed several times on Fiery Cross Reef, one of three runways Beijing has been building for more than a year on artificially extended reefs and atolls in the Spratly Islands.

Vietnam and the Philippines have both condemned the flights and the United States has expressed concern about increasing regional tension.

Vietnam referred to an “illegally” built reef and said it would defend its sovereignty through peaceful measures.

Hanoi’s civil aviation authorities also said Chinese planes flew into its “flight information region” without notification and “flight operations of Chinese aircraft have threatened safe exploitation of international air routes”.

Hong Lei, Beijing’s foreign ministry spokesman, said that complaint was “groundless”, stressing China’s sovereignty over the islands.

“According to international law, national aviation activities are not subject to relevant restrictions from international civil aviation conventions and the International Civil Aviation Organisation,” Hong told the press.

“China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and their adjacent waters. China’s test flights to the newly built airport on Yongshu Jiao fall totally within China’s sovereignty.”

He added that China had notified Vietnam about the flights.

“Vietnam’s claims that it has not received notification from China does not conform to the facts at all,” Hong said.

China’s news agency Xinhua reported that on December 28, the Flight Inspection Centre of the Civil Aviation Authority of China notified the authority of the Flight Information Region of Ho Chi Minh City of detailed technical information for test flights, including the flight plans and air route, in line with relevant rules and international norms.

“But Vietnam has not given any feedback so far,” said Hong.

China claims virtually the whole of the South China Sea and has overlapping claims with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia and Taiwan.

Xinhua reported that the Chinese test flights landed on and took off from what it called China’s most southernmost airport on Yongshu Jiao, developed for “humanitarian purposes, including emergency landings and maritime rescue”.

“The accusations that China’s test flights ‘threaten the safety of all flights in the region’ are entirely groundless,” Hong said in response to Hanoi’s complaint to the UN International Civil Aviation Organisation.

On Friday, Vietnam’s official online newspaper quoted Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam director Lai Xuan Thanh saying Chinese aircraft “have ignored all the rules and norms of the ICAO by not providing any flight plans or maintaining any radio contact with Vietnam’s air traffic control centre”.