14:41 GMT30 September 2020
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    In what appears to be the first such occasion covered by Chinese media, a transport plane has landed at an airport constructed on a disputed reef in the South China Sea as part of a rescue mission.

    On Monday, a Chinese military airplane evacuated three injured workers from the construction site on the Fiery Cross Reef, an island claimed by both Vietnam and the Philippines.

    According to a report in the People's Liberation Army Daily, people were taken to the island of Hainan for medical aid.

    This is the first instance Chinese officials acknowledged a landing on the disputed reef, Global Times newspaper claimed.

    “On the Chinese territory, this kind of thing is not surprising at all,” Lu Kang, a foreign ministry spokesperson, stated during a regular media briefing. “It is a good tradition of the People’s Liberation Army to provide a necessary assistance to Chinese people in need.”

    China has been in the process of constructing an artificial island on the reef, located a thousand kilometers from its Hainan province, for about a year. In 2014, Beijing began building a 3,000-metre runway on the island, causing outrage from neighboring countries with overlapping territorial claims. China completed its first testing of the facility in January, with a civil aircraft landing on the reef.

    A military expert told Global Times that the latest landing showcases that the landing strip was designed so that it could also serve as a military base. The runaways are long enough to handle China’s cutting edge jets, providing Beijing with a staging area in the middle of Southeast Asia.

    China has repeatedly denied allegations that the runway is to be used for military purposes, while US repeatedly condemns Beijing for “militarization in the South China Sea." The Pentagon has concurrently stated its intention to deploy underwater drones in the region.

    US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said the Navy would use "new undersea drones in multiple sizes and diverse payloads that can, importantly, operate in shallow water, where submarines cannot."

    Beijing claims almost all of the maritime and terrestrial regions within the South China Sea. Overlapping claims are made by Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan.  The US has no territorial claims in the area.


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    disputed islands, military, aircraft, South China Sea, China, United States, Beijing
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