A Chinese military plane has landed on Fiery Cross Reef near the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. It is the first time a Chinese military aircraft had landed on the artificial island.

According to the PLA Daily, the plane was on a routine patrol mission when it received orders to evacuate three workers who fell ill. They were safely evacuated to Sanya at Hainan Island.

Earlier this month, China moved 16 J-11 fighter jets to Woody Island in the South China Sea.

When asked about the event, China Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said providing emergency relief was a military duty and the operation “on Chinese soil” was not surprising.

Tension continues to mount over China’s role in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, where six nations lay claim to areas in the resource-rich region. Countries including Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Philippines are opposed to China’s development of building military-grade airstrips and other territorial claims in the region.

US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter visited the region on an aircraft carrier last week as war games involving the US and Philippines were conducted.

Criticism against China

The biggest reaction today appeared to come from the US, which protested China’s actions.

Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis states, “It is unclear why the Chinese used a military aircraft, as opposed to a civilian one."

He reiterated the desire for China to “reaffirm that it has no plans to deploy or rotate military aircraft at its outposts in the Spratly Islands, in keeping with China’s prior assurances.”

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom said it would, like the US, back a decision from Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague on Philippines’ challenge of China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. Beijing has already said the court has no jurisdiction on the matter. Hugo Swire of the UK’s Foreign Ministry saw the rise in tensions as “driven by China’s assertive actions.” He concluded that the UK government would “continue to speak up loudly in support of rules and against coercion.”

Edited by Edward White

Taipei Times
Japan Times
South China Morning Post
Stars and Stripes