Vietnam issued protests this week after a series of landings by Chinese civilian airliners on a runway China built on a newly created island in busy South China Sea waters claimed by both communist neighbors.
A landing on Thursday marked the third flight to touch down on the runway China is building on Fiery Cross Reef. They caused Vietnam to launch a protest accusing China is violating Vietnam’s sovereignty.
“It seriously violates Vietnam’s sovereignty, threatens peace and stability in the region, and threatens the security, safety and freedom of navigation and aviation in the East Sea,” foreign ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh said in a statement as he used the Vietnamese name for the area.
“Vietnam resolutely requests China to immediately stop such actions, not to further violate Viet Nam’s sovereignty over the Truong Sa Archipelago, respects relevant regulations in international law, and restrain from actions that broaden and further complicate disputes,” he added.
On Jan 6, the Vietnamese civil aviation administration told the International Civil Aviation Organization that the Chinese airplanes flew through Ho Chi Minh City’s flight information region without giving prior notice, RFA has learned.
China piled sand on reefs and atolls to build seven new islands as Beijing attempts to exert more control over the area. China’s moves have brought condemnation by its neighbors and the United States, which accuse China of trying to dominate an area where six governments maintain overlapping maritime territorial claims.
China has rejected calls for a halt construction as it claims sovereignty over the entire area. While Beijing contends the new islands are principally for civilian use it also claims they will be used to defend Chinese sovereignty.
While Vietnam contends flights were improper, Le Hai Binh says the Southeast Asian nation will seek a peaceful resolution
“Vietnam will resolutely protect its sovereignty, sovereign rights and national jurisdiction in the East Sea by peaceful means in accordance with the UN Charter and international law,” he said.
The U.S. State Department responded to flight on Saturday by reiterating calls for a halt to land reclamation and militarization of outposts in those waters.
'Red lines for us'
In Manila, visiting British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said Thursday that freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea was non-negotiable and urged rival governments to avoid provocative steps, the Associated Press reported.
"They are red lines for us," Hammond said, adding that as a major trading nation, Britain expects to continue exercising those rights.
Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario also warned that China may next impose an air defense identification zone above the contested region, as it did over the East China Sea, and said such a move would be "unacceptable."
China's assertion of its claims has caused a number of tense statements, mainly among China, Vietnam and the Philippines, over long-disputed and potentially oil- or gas-rich offshore territories also claimed by Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.
The move is also creating headaches for the U.S., which has refused to recognize the new islands as geographic features deserving of territorial waters and other aspects of sovereignty.
Washington has taken no position on the sovereignty claims, but insists that disputes be settled peacefully and that freedom of navigation be maintained in waters through which one-third of global trade passes
According to the AP, Fiery Cross Reef is the largest of the new islands that in total compose more than 800 hectares (2,000 acres) of reclaimed land.
Its 3-kilometer (10,000-foot) airstrip is long enough to handle any plane operated by the Chinese military.
Another runway is being built on Subi Reef, with signs of similar work underway on nearby Mischief Reef. If all are completed, China would possess four airstrips in all on its South China Sea island holdings.
Reported by RFA's Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.