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China lands its military aircraft in disputed South China Sea island

BEIJING: On Monday, a Chinese military aircraft, for the first time openly, landed at a new airport on an island China has constructed in the disputed South China Sea.

This move has raised the outlook that China could base fighter jets there.

The United States has critiqued China’s building of artificial islands in the South China Sea and doubts that it plans to use them for military purposes, even however China says it has no inimical intent.

The take-off strip on the Fiery Cross Reef is 3,000 metres long and is one of three China has been constructing for more than a year by searching sand up onto ridges and islands in the Spratly archipelago.

Civilian flights began test runs there in January.

In a front-page story, the official People’s Liberation Army Daily said a military aircraft on patrol over the South China Sea on Sunday received an emergency call to land at Fiery Cross Reef to clear three extremely ill labours.

They were then taken in the conveyance aircraft back to Hainan Island for treatment, it said, viewing a picture of the aircraft on the ground in Hainan.

It was the first time China’s military had openly recognised landing an aircraft on Fiery Cross Reef, the influential Global Times tabloid said.

It quoted a military expert as saying the flight showed the airfield was up to military standards and could see fighter jets based there in the event of war.

The runways would be long enough to handle long-range bombers and transport aircraft as well as China’s best jet fighters, giving it a presence deep in the maritime heart of Southeast Asia that it has lacked until now.

More than $5 trillion of world trade is shipped through the South China Sea every year. Besides China’s territorial claims in the area, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have rival claims.