China has rejected a protest from Vietnam over a flight test it has conducted on a new airstrip on a man-made island in the South China Sea, saying it is part of China’s territory.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said on Saturday that the flight is to test whether the airfield facilities can meet civil aviation standards.
“China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and their adjacent waters. China will not accept the unfounded accusation from the Vietnamese side,” Hua said.
Vietnam Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh said the test flight violated Vietnam’s sovereignty, breached mutual understanding and hurt the bilateral relations. He expressed Viet Nam's disappointment with China's pilot flight to an illegally-built airport on Chu Thap (Fiery Cross) reef in the Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelago.
He made the statement in Ha Noi on Saturday, the day China committed the action: "China's above-mentioned action seriously violated Viet Nam's sovereignty over the Truong Sa archipelago and went counter to the common perception of the two countries' leaders, the agreement on basic principles guiding the settlement of Viet Nam – China issues at sea and the spirit of the 2012 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea," he said.
The Philippine government also said that like Vietnam, it opposes China's recent test of a newly completed runway on one of seven islands Beijing has constructed in the disputed South China Sea.
“We will also be lodging a protest in due course,” Jose said on Sunday, January 3. Jose said the Philippines claims the Fiery Cross Reef (which it calls Kagitingan Reef) as part of the Spratly Islands (Kalayaan Island Group).
The United States also expressed concern that the test flight will aggravate tensions among claimant countries.
Pooja Jhunjhunwala, a spokesperson for the US State Department, said 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.”
Satellite images published by IHS Jane's Defence Weekly in April showed China building the airstrip on reclaimed land on Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands. The Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei
and Taiwan also have claims to parts of the Sea, home to strategic shipping lanes as well as substantial oil and gas reserves.