Civilian Jets Land on Chinese-Built Island, Drawing Protests


British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, right, is welcomed by his Philippine counterpart Albert del Rosario prior to their bilateral meeting at the Department of Foreign Affairs in suburban Pasay city, south of Manila, Philippines, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016. Hammond and del Rosario discussed issues affecting their two countries such as the celebration of the 70 years of diplomatic relations, economic cooperation and maritime security, foremost of which is the current row with China in the South China Sea. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

Two civilian jets landed on the airstrip of a new island China built in the South China Sea, drawing more protests over China’s activities in disputed waters.

The China Daily newspaper reported Thursday the planes made the two-hour flight to Fiery Cross Reef from Haikou on the southern island province of Hainan.

It said the test flights on Wednesday proved the runway’s ability to safely handle large civilian aircraft. Photos showed one of the planes to be a China Southern Airlines Airbus A319-115.

An earlier test flight Saturday drew angry protests from Vietnam, Philippines and Japan.

China’s building of seven islands by piling sand on reefs and atolls has been condemned by its neighbors and the United States, which accused China of raising tensions in an area where six governments maintain overlapping maritime territorial claims.

In Manila, visiting British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea was non-negotiable and urged rival governments to avoid provocative steps.

“They are red lines for us,” Hammond said, adding that as a major trading nation, Britain expects to continue exercising those rights.

Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh said in a statement that China’s action seriously violated Vietnam’s sovereignty and demanded China immediately stop and that it respect international law.

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