Beijing has once again aroused the ire of Vietnam, this time by landing a plane on a runway built on one of its artificial islands in the Spratly archipelago, in just the latest escalation in the all-out flame war that is the disputed South China Sea.
Reuters reports that the aircraft was landed on a Chinese-built airstrip on the island known as Fiery Cross Reef (Yongshu Island), the largest island in the Spratlys, expanded to nearly 1 square kilometer by Chinese construction work into a idyllic paradise of veggies and cute female soldiers.
Vietnam was aggravated enough to issue a protest note to China’s Foreign Ministry, calling the flight, “a serious infringement of the sovereignty of Vietnam on the Spratly archipelago.” Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Le Hai Binh asserted that the territory is part of Vietnam and that all of China’s activities in the area are illegal.
Needless to say, China’s Foreign Ministry disagrees with its Vietnamese counterpart. Here’s what spokesperson Hua Chunying had to say on the matter:
China has finished building a new airport on Yongshu Jiao of China’s Nansha Islands. The Chinese government conducted a test flight to the airport with a civil aircraft in order to test whether or not the facilities on it meet the standards for civil aviation. Relevant activity falls completely within China’s sovereignty.
China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and their adjacent waters. The Chinese side will not accept the unfounded accusation from the Vietnamese side.
China-Vietnam relations, on the whole, are riding a momentum of development. It is hoped that the Vietnamese side can work with China towards the same direction and make concrete efforts to sustain the sound and stable growth of bilateral ties.
While the U.S. fears that the newly “reclaimed” land will be used as a military base, China defends the existence of its airfield on the grounds of hydrological and meteorological research for a maritime observatory built on Fiery Cross Reef in the 1980s.
“The airfield on the island will help China to collect more data for such research and to perform better in rescue missions,” said China Institute of International Studies’ vice-president Ruan Zongze, adding that it’s really Vietnam who are “illegally occupying” the area.
This latest territorial spat has made the U.S. aflutter with anxiety, State Department spokeswoman Pooja Jhunjhunwala said that there was “a pressing need for claimants to publicly commit to a reciprocal halt to further land reclamation, construction of new facilities, and militarization of disputed features.” Meanwhile, Chinese officials say that there is no aim to militarize the islands, and advise the U.S. to just chill.