China tests new airfields on disputed reefs

Civilian planes land on runways a day after international court rejected Beijing’s claims to parts of the South China Sea

China tests new airfields on disputed reefs

World Bulletin / News Desk

China has conducted test flights with civilian aircraft to new airfields on two disputed reefs in the South China Sea.

The state-run China Daily reported Thursday that planes landed on runways on Meiji Reef and Zhubi Reef -- also known as Mischief Reef and Subi Reef, respectively -- for the first time Wednesday.

The test flights were conducted a day after an international tribunal in The Hague ruled that Beijing's claims to areas of the resource-rich sea have no legal basis in an arbitration launched by the Philippines, whose “sovereign rights” it said China had violated.

China, which has long insisted that the court lacks jurisdiction over issues of sovereignty and maritime delimitation, declared the award "null and void".

Beijing claims sovereignty over around 90 percent of the sea, an area marked by a so-called “nine-dash line” on Chinese official maps, while the Philippines and other Asian nations have their own claims.

The Mischief and Subi reefs are also claimed by the Philippines.

The China Daily reported Thursday that the new runways cut travel time from China’s southern Hainan Island to the reefs -- a distance of more than 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) -- from 30 hours by sea to 2 hours by air.

China currently has three airfields -- the other on Yongshu, or Fiery Cross, Reef -- “accessible to commercial airliners” on the Nansha Islands, also named the Spratly Islands.

China is also building its fifth lighthouse on the Sprtalys, at a time when the Philippines and other United States allies have been expressing alarm over its maritime expansion in the sea, which they suspect is aimed at extending its military reach.

On Sunday, an official from the transport ministry’s maritime affairs department said that four lighthouses -- on the Zhubi, Yongshu, Huayang and Chigua reefs --were already in operation, with construction ongoing on a fifth on Meiji Reef.

The South China Sea is one of the world's busiest shipping lanes, believed to be sitting atop huge oil and gas deposits, but Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also consider some of the region’s waters, islands and reefs to be their territory. 

Güncelleme Tarihi: 14 Temmuz 2016, 11:56