Vietnam protests after China lands plane on disputed Spratly islands

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Vietnam has formally accused China of violating its sovereignty by landing a plane on an airstrip Beijing has built on an artificial island in a contested part of the South China Sea.

Foreign ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh said the airfield had been “built illegally” on Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly archipelago, in territory that was “part of Vietnam’s Spratlys”.
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China’s foreign ministry rejected the complaint, saying that what was a test flight to the newly built airfield on the reef was a matter “completely within China’s sovereignty,” the Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported.

The United States said it was concerned that the flight had exacerbated tensions.

Washington has criticised China’s construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea and worries that Beijing plans to use them for military purposes, even though China says it has no hostile intent.

Pooja Jhunjhunwala, a spokeswoman 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 militarisation of disputed features”.

“We encourage all claimants to actively reduce tensions by refraining from unilateral actions that undermine regional stability, and taking steps to create space for meaningful diplomatic solutions to emerge,” she said.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China used a civil aircraft to conduct the flight to test whether the airfield facilities meet civil aviation standards.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/03/vietnam-protests-after-china-lands-plane-on-disputed-spratly-islands

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