China has landed two large civilian jets on one of its man-made islands in the South China Sea, sparking more protests over the country’s activities in the disputed waters, an informed US defense official told Fox News on Thursday. the latest information.
A defense official confirmed that at least one large Chinese civilian airliner made one of the test flights on Wednesday. Photos showed that one of the planes was a China Southern Airlines Airbus A319-115.
The China Daily newspaper reported that the planes made the two-hour flight to Fiery Cross Reef from Haikou in the southern island province of Hainan.
This follows a similar test carried out by China on a new runway on one of its disputed islands last weekend using a Cessna, a small civilian plane, according to defense officials.
The Pentagon expects these civilian aircraft tests to result in China sending military planes to its man-made islands in the South China Sea.
China’s construction of seven islands by piling sand on reefs and atolls has been condemned by neighbors and the United States, which has accused China of increasing tensions in an area where six governments maintain territorial claims overlapping maritime areas.
The United States does not recognize the islands and sailed a Navy warship within 12 nautical miles of one of the islands in late October.
In Manila, visiting British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond on Thursday said freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea was non-negotiable and urged rival governments to avoid provocative measures.
“These are red lines for us,” Hammond said, adding that as a great trading nation Britain expects to continue to exercise these rights.
The previous test flight on Saturday drew angry protests from Vietnam, the Philippines and Japan.
Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh said in a statement that China’s action seriously violates Vietnam’s sovereignty and called on China to stop immediately and respect international law.
Philippine Foreign Minister Albert del Rosario warned that China could then impose an air defense identification zone over the disputed region, as it did over the East China Sea. , and said such a decision would be “unacceptable”.
China has rejected calls to stop construction on the island, saying its claim to sovereignty over the entire region gives it the right to proceed as it wishes. He says the new islands are primarily for civilian use, but also help defend Chinese sovereignty.
China’s strong assertions over its claims have sparked tense trade, mainly between China, Vietnam and the Philippines, in long-contested and potentially oil- or gas-rich offshore territories, also claimed by Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei. .
Although the United States takes no formal position on the various sovereignty claims, it insists that disputes be resolved peacefully and that freedom of navigation be maintained in the waters through which more than 30% of world trade passes.
Fiery Cross Reef is the largest of the seven new islands which together make up over 2,000 acres of reclaimed land. Its 10,000-foot airstrip is long enough to accommodate any aircraft operated by the Chinese military.
Another track is under construction on Subi Reef, with signs of similar work underway on nearby Mischief Reef. If this is all over, China would have four airstrips in all on its South China Sea island possessions.
Lucas Tomlinson of Fox News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.