China flies two commercial jets to man-made island in South China Sea

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 08 Jan 2016 10:22:28

Air strip at the disputed Spratly Islands. (File photo)



BEIJING, Jan 7 (Agencies)

A pair of Chinese civilian jet airliners landed at a newly created island in a disputed section of the South China Sea in a test to see whether its airstrip was up to standard, state media reported on Thursday. The China Daily newspaper said the two planes on Wednesday made the two-hour flight to Fiery Cross Reef from Haikou on the southern island province of Hainan.
It said the test flights proved the runway's ability to safely handle large civilian aircraft. Photos showed one of the planes to be a China Southern Airlines Airbus A319-115.
The flights followed a maiden voyage on Saturday that drew an angry protest from rival claimants Vietnam and the Philippines.
China's creation of seven new islands by piling sand on reefs and atolls has been condemned by its neighbours and the United States, which accused China of raising tensions in an area where six governments maintain overlapping maritime territorial claims.
The US State Department responded to Saturday's flight by reiterating calls for a halt to land reclamation and militarization of outposts in those waters.
In Manila, visiting British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said on Thursday that freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea was non-negotiable and urged rival governments to avoid provocative steps.
Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario warned that China may next impose an air defense identification zone above the contested region.
China has rejected calls for a halt in island construction, saying its claim of sovereignty over the entire area gives it the right to proceed as it wishes. It says the new islands are principally for civilian use but also help defend Chinese sovereignty.