Not even a week after Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter visited the region and announced several measures meant to dissuade Beijing from building up a strong presence in the South China Sea, China landed its first military aircraft on Woody Island in the Paracels. Reuters:
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 evacuate three seriously ill workers.
They were then taken in the transport aircraft back to Hainan island for treatment, it said, showing a picture of the aircraft on the ground in Hainan.
It was the first time China’s military had publicly admitted landing an aircraft on Fiery Cross Reef, the influential Global Times tabloid said.
It cited an 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.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said such rescue missions were part of the military’s “fine tradition” and that it was “not at all surprising” they had done this on China’s own territory.
In related news, the Philippines are awaiting a verdict in the international court case they brought last year. Most analysts think the court will find that China’s territorial claims, based as they are on artificial islands built up over semi-submerged atolls, will be thrown out. The UK, which many human rights activists have criticized for kowtowing to China in exchange for favorable trade deals, said on Monday that the court’s decision must be respected by Beijing, even though there is no enforcement mechanism in place, makings its rulings easy to ignore.
A decision is expected in a month.