Philippines ‘concerned’ as China lands bombers on disputed reefs

US has condemned landings of nuclear-capable aircraft as destabilising the region

China’s South Sea fleet taking part in a drill in the Xisha Islands, or the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, in May 2016.  Photograph:   AFP/Getty Images

China’s South Sea fleet taking part in a drill in the Xisha Islands, or the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, in May 2016. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

 

The Philippines has expressed “serious concern” after Chinese strategic bombers landed on islands and reefs in disputed areas of the South China Sea, and promised “appropriate diplomatic action”. The US has also sent ships to the disputed area.

For several years now, China has been transforming reefs and islands in disputed sectors of the South China Sea into artificial islands, and installed military facilities including airfields on them. It says the military infrastructure is purely defensive.

The Chinese Communist Party’s official newspaper, People’s Daily, last week posted footage on its Twitter feed of the H-6K long-range bomber, which has nuclear strike capability, landing and taking off from one of the islands for the first time.

The reclaimed island is believed to be Woody Island, China’s largest base in the Paracel Islands, which are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.

The department of foreign affairs in the Philippines reiterated Manila’s commitment to protecting its territory and areas over which it holds sovereign rights, but did not explicitly criticise China’s actions.

“We are taking the appropriate diplomatic action necessary to protect our claims and will continue to do so in the future,” the ministry said in a statement.

Territorial claims

China has territorial claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, through which about €4.75 trillion in trade passes every year.

Washington, fearful of China’s growing military might in the area, has also criticised the move. A Pentagon spokesman said “continued militarisation of disputed features in the South China Sea only serves to raise tensions and destabilise the region”.

As well as the Philippines, it is in dispute with Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and self-ruled Taiwan over the maritime area.

Beijing has rejected a ruling by an international tribunal in The Hague dismissing its claims.

Earlier this month, China secretly placed anti-ship cruise missile and surface-to-air weapons systems on man-made islands built on reefs near the Spratly Islands west of the Philippines.

The missiles have been deployed on Fiery Cross Reef, Subi Reef and Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands. The islands are about two-thirds of the way east from southern Vietnam to the southern Philippines.

In a People’s Liberation Army air force statement issued over the weekend, Wang Mingliang, a researcher at the PLA Air Force Command College, said take-off and landing exercises on islands in the South China Sea “will help the air force strengthen its combat capability to deal with marine security threats”.

‘Deter plots’

Wang Yanan, editor of the publication Aerospace Knowledge, told the China Daily newspaper that deploying bombers on the islands would greatly extend their operation range “adding to existing prowess to deter any plots to compromise China’s territorial integrity from the sea”.

Last week, a group of Chinese tourists wearing T-shirts showing China’s regional claims sparked anger in Vietnam, which has several overlapping territorial claims.

The tourists arrived at the Cam Ranh international airport on May 13th and after clearing immigration, took off their jackets to show T-shirts bearing the “nine-dash line” which shows Beijing’s claims.