A Chinese military aircraft has for the first time landed at a new airport on an island China has built in a disputed archipelago in the South China Sea, state media said Monday.
The incident raises the prospect that China could base fighter jets there, Reuters said in a report.
The United States has criticised China’s construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea and worries that it plans to use them for military purposes, even though Beijing says it has no hostile intent.
The runway on the Fiery Cross Reef is 3,000 meters long and is one of three China has been building for more than a year by dredging sand up onto reefs and atolls in the Spratly Islands.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam dispute China’s claim to the archipelago, which is much closer to all of them.
Civilian flights began test runs to Fiery Cross in January.
In a front-page story, the official People’s Liberation Army Daily said a military aircraft on patrol over the South China Sea received an emergency call Sunday to land at Fiery Cross Reef to evacuate three seriously ill workers.
They were taken in the transport aircraft to Hainan island for treatment, it said, showing a picture of the aircraft on the ground in Hainan.
It was the first time China’s military had publicly admitted landing an aircraft on Fiery Cross Reef, the influential Global Times tabloid said.
It cited a military expert as saying the flight showed the airfield was up to military standards and could have fighter jets based there in the event of war.
The runways would be long enough to handle long-range bombers and transport aircraft as well as China’s best jet fighters, giving it a presence deep in the maritime heart of Southeast Asia that it has lacked until now.
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