Hanoi claims China endangered civilian aircraft

China is unwilling to compromise over its extensive claims to the South China Sea. Source: Wikimedia

Hanoi has accused Beijing of endangering civilian flights over the disputed South China Sea by not properly informing its aviation authorities of recent test flights to a man-made island claimed by both countries.

Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh said that while a Chinese Embassy representative did inform the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry about the flights last month, prompting a protest from Hanoi, that did not extend to the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam and threatened the safety of civil aviation.

The notification from the Chinese Embassy “cannot substitute China’s notification to the appropriate air traffic services units of Vietnam in order to ensure the safety and regularity of flight operations”, said the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam.

China Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei announced on Monday that China’s three test flights to Fiery Cross Reef, one of seven South China Sea islands where China carried out extended land reclamation, were state aviation activities and had no restrictions under international law.

Hong said Beijing informed Vietnamese aviation authorities on December 28 and the Foreign Ministry two days later about them. He said Vietnam had failed to see “the professional, technical and civil nature of China’s inspection and test flights”.

Hong also said Hanoi failed to see “the professional, technical and civil nature of China’s inspection and test flights.”

Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh disputed Hong’s statement and said that Vietnam had protested to a Chinese diplomatic delegation and demanded that the flights be cancelled.

Binh said the flights violated Vietnam’s sovereignty over the controversial islands, while asking Beijing to desist from further flights.

Vietnam and China both claim the Paracel Islands, and the two along with the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan claim all or parts of the Spratly Islands, which sit on potential oil and gas reserves and occupy one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, through which an estimated US$5 trillion in trade passes each year.

Philippine foreign affairs spokesman Charles Jose said Manila had written a letter of protest to its Chinese Embassy, blaming it for heightening regional tensions and anxiety.

He said the tests violated a 2002 agreement between China and Asean that agreed to avoid aggressive moves that could spark armed conflict in the South China Sea.

China is showing no willingness to compromise on its claims to the sea and appears to care little for repeated US objections to its policy.