In a crucial development, a Chinese military aircraft landed for the first time at the new airport on an island that Beijing had built in a contested part of the South China Sea. The aircraft landed on April 17 to rescue three critically ill construction workers.
The aircraft made an emergency landing while patrolling the area. The aircraft landed to transfer the three severely ill workers from Fiery Cross Reef on the Spratly Islands. “It was the first time China’s military had publicly admitted landing an aircraft on Fiery Cross Reef,” China’s state run Global Times reported. The aircraft’s landing was the first by a military plane since the airport was completed.
Acknowledging the success of China’s airport construction on the disputed islands, some analysts said that the successful rescue mission by the aircraft proved that the airport and runways were ready for military use. One of China’s naval experts, Zhang Junshe said that the mission also proved that China’s construction in the South China Sea had made it possible to carry out humanitarian aid efforts.
“The plane then flew to Sanya on China’s southernmost island province of Hainan where it landed at Fenghuang International Airport,” China’s Defence ministry said in a statement. The runway was completed by China in 2015 and in January 2016, it flew three commercial jets to the island as a test.
The construction of new islands in the South China Sea triggered geopolitical tensions between China and the US. The US refuses to view them legally as islands that are entitled to territorial seas and special economic zones.
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