Beijing deploys military plane to third island base - Taipei Times
Fri, May 11, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Beijing deploys military plane to third island base

Bloomberg

China has landed a military airplane on the last of its three airstrips in the disputed South China Sea, a Washington-based research institution said, amid renewed complaints about Beijing expanding its military presence in the busy shipping lane.

The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative said satellite images from April 28 showed the first confirmed deployment of a military aircraft — a Shaanxi Y-8 transport aircraft — on Subi Reef (Jhubi Reef, 渚碧礁).

The feature hosts one of three runways China has built as part of a massive dredging and reclamation operation in the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島) since 2013 and was the last of three where military aircraft had been observed.

“This should be particularly concerning to the Philippines,” the institute, a unit of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said on its Web site.

About 100 Philippine civilians and a small military garrison are stationed on Thitu Island (Jhongye Island, 中業島), about 12 nautical miles (22.2km) away from Subi.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment yesterday.

China claims more than 80 percent of the South China Sea, a US$5 trillion per year shipping route where five other nations — Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines — also have claims.

Regional concerns about China’s presence in the area re-emerged earlier this month after the ministry confirmed reports that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army had installed missile systems on Subi, Mischief Reef (Meiji Reef, 美濟礁) and Fiery Cross Reef (Yongshu Reef, 永暑島), where it has built military-grade airstrips.

Chinese military aircraft have landed on other Chinese features in the Spratlys, the institute said.

The first was a naval patrol aircraft — possibly a Y-8 — that landed on Fiery Cross in April 2016 to evacuate three people who had fallen ill.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer last month published an aerial photograph dated Jan. 6 showing two Xian Y-7 military transport aircraft on Mischief Reef.

China has installed anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missile systems on Subi Reef, Mischief Reef and Fiery Cross, CNBC reported earlier this month.

Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying (華春瑩) defended the move, saying that the deployment was necessary to protect China’s sovereignty.

Vietnam has asked China to remove the military equipment deployed on its features in the Spratly Islands, Viet Nam News reported on Wednesday, citing Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang.

The placement of the missiles violated Vietnam’s sovereignty, Hang was quoted as saying.

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