SOUTH CHINA SEA

‘Grave concern’: Japan expresses anger over China’s test landing on Spratlys airstrip

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 January, 2016, 1:36pm
UPDATED : Monday, 04 January, 2016, 1:43pm

The Japanese government has expressed “grave concern” over China’s landing of a plane on an airstrip it constructed in a contested part of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

“Japan is gravely concerned about China's act, which is a unilateral change of the status quo” in the region and an attempt to make Beijing's massive and fast-paced land reclamation work in the disputed seas “a fait accompli,” Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told a press conference on Monday.

Japan “cannot accept [this act] which is escalating tensions and is a concern shared by the international community,” Kishida said. “Japan will continue to co-operate with other countries concerned to protect the freedom of the seas.”

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said Saturday that Beijing “conducted a test flight to the airport with a civil aircraft in order to test whether or not the facilities on it meet the standards for civil aviation,” adding that the “activity falls completely within China's sovereignty.”

It is believed to be the first time that China has allowed an aircraft to take off or land at the airstrip on Fiery Cross Reef, one of many artificial or artificially enlarged islands China has created in the Spratlys.

China is asserting sovereignty over most of the South China Sea, which is also claimed in whole or in part by Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines.

A US Defense Department official also voiced concern Saturday that the test flight had escalated tensions in the region.

Hanoi also protested, labelling the landing a violation of sovereignty which “influences peace and stability in the South China Sea”.

“Vietnam resolutely protests China’s above-mentioned action, asking China to immediately end while not repeating similar move,” said foreign ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh in Hanoi.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse