China’s claims to the South China Sea are incompatible with those of its neighbours. Source: Wikimedia
Hanoi has accused Beijing of violating its sovereignty by landing an aircraft on a runway built on an artificial island in the contested South China Sea.
Foreign ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh said the airfield had been “built illegally” on Fiery Cross Reef in “part of Vietnam’s Spratlys”.
Beijing’s foreign ministry rejected the complaint, saying that the test flight to the new airfield on the reef was “completely within China’s sovereignty”, the state news agency Xinhua reported.
Washington expressed fears that the flight had exacerbated tensions.
The US has criticised China’s construction of artificial islands in the sea and asks if China plans to use them for military purposes, something that Beijing denies.
Pooja Jhunjhunwala, a spokeswoman for the US State Department, said there was “a pressing need for claimants to publicly commit to a reciprocal halt to further land reclamation, construction of new facilities, and militarisation of disputed features”.
“We encourage all claimants to actively reduce tensions by refraining from unilateral actions that undermine regional stability, and taking steps to create space for meaningful diplomatic solutions to emerge,” she said.
John McCain, the chairman of the US Senate Armed Services Committee, said the Obama administration was allowing Beijing to continue to “pursue its territorial ambitions” by delaying “freedom of navigation” patrols in the South China Sea.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China used a civil aircraft to conduct the flight to test whether the airfield facilities met civil aviation standards.
“China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and their adjacent waters. China will not accept the unfounded accusation from the Vietnamese side,” she said, using the Spratlys’ Chinese name.
Hua added that Beijing hoped Hanoi would work to achieve “sustainable, healthy and stable” development of bilateral ties.
Hanoi’s foreign ministry said it had handed a formal complaint to the Chinese embassy and asked that the act would not be repeated.
It called the flight “a serious infringement of the sovereignty of Vietnam on the Spratly archipelago”.
China claims almost all the South China Sea, which is believed to have huge deposits of oil and gas, and through which about US$5 trillion in goods pass annually.
Last year it built an airfield on Fiery Cross Reef, or Yongshu Jiao to the Chinese, that is thought to be long enough to accommodate most Chinese military aircraft.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia and Taiwan also have conflicting claims with China to the South China Sea.
Tokyo and Manila joined Hanoi in expressing anger at Beijing after the Chinese plane landed.
The flight at Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands “adds to tension and uncertainties in the region”, said Charles Jose, spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila.
Manila was considering taking further action against China’s action, the spokesman said.
Kyodo news agency reported that Fumio Kishida, Japanese foreign minister, said the flight was an attempt by China to make its island-building “a fait accompli”.
“Japan is gravely concerned about China’s act, which is a unilateral change of the status quo,” Kishida said.