As the geopolitical tensions continue to simmer in the disputed South China Sea, China’s latest decision to begin civilian flights from the disputed islands in the region, is likely to trigger a fresh round of controversy with its neighbouring countries. According to the Chinese official news agency Xinhua report, China is set to begin operating civilian flights to a disputed island in the South China Sea within a year.
In January, China had carried out test flights to a newly constructed airfield on Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands. The region is witnessing overlapping claims by China, Vietnam and four other countries. Xiao Jie, a top Communist Party official said that the flight connectivity will “improve air traffic services in the South China Sea and provide more information about weather, aeronautics, communication, navigation and surveillance.”
China has recently increased its activities in the South China Sea, which attracted serious international attention. The pace and scale at which China is expanding in the area, generated a sense of insecurity among other countries in the Asia-Pacific.
It is estimated that around $5 trillion worth of global trade passes through the disputed South China Sea. China virtually claims the whole of South China Sea citing historic links to the sea.
Japan, the US and other nations in the region have urged China to halt its massive land-reclamation projects and refrain from militarising the waters. The international community has asked China to ensure freedom of navigation in international waters. China’s recent deployment of surface-to-air missiles on the disputed islands, has forced other countries in the region to increase their defence budget.
China’s latest decision to start commercial flights to and from the disputed islands will further complicate disputes between rival claimants in the region.
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