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US opposes China runway test on reef; echoes PH, Vietnam protest

/ 07:53 AM January 05, 2016
FILE - In this Monday, May 11, 2015, file photo, the alleged on-going reclamation of Subi Reef by China is seen from Pag-asa Island in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, western Palawan Province, Philippines. China’s campaign of island building in the South China Sea might soon quadruple the number of airstrips available to the People’s Liberation Army in the highly contested and strategically vital region. That could be bad news for other regional contenders, especially the U.S., the Philippines and Vietnam. (Ritchie B. Tongo/Pool Photo via AP, File)

In this May 11, 2015, file photo, the alleged on-going reclamation of Subi Reef by China is seen from Pag-asa Island in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, western Palawan Province, Philippines. AP

WASHINGTON, United States — The United States said Monday that China’s recent test of a newly completed runway on one of seven islands Beijing has constructed in the disputed South China Sea raises tensions and threatens regional stability.

State Department spokesman John Kirby reiterated a U.S. call for a halt to land reclamation and militarization of outposts in those waters, where China and five other Asian governments have competing territorial claims.

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China’s landing of an aircraft at Fiery Cross Reef has already drawn criticism from its neighbors. Vietnam protested last week, saying China’s move violated Hanoi’s sovereignty. It demanded that China stop such actions, but Beijing rejected Hanoi’s protest. The Philippines, a U.S. ally, said Monday it was also considering a formal protest.

BACKSTORY: China landing on PH reef hit | PH, Vietnam grow closer vs China

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Tensions have risen in the last two years after China transformed disputed reefs in the Spratly Island chain into islands that rival claimants fear Beijing could use to project its military might far from the Chinese mainland and threaten their territories.

“To begin flight operations at this new airfield in a disputed area raises tensions and threatens regional stability,” Kirby told reporters in Washington. He said claimants should instead focus on reaching agreement on acceptable behavior in disputed areas.

“We have made this case clear repeatedly, and we will continue to make it,” he said.

READ: US sees conflict in South China sea over reclamations |US set to defy China’s claims

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Saturday that China deployed a “civil aircraft” on the island, which it calls Yongshu Jiao, to determine whether the new airfield in what she said was Chinese territory conformed to civil aviation standards.

The diplomatic tussle that China’s action has sparked presages a continuation this year of tense exchanges, 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 South China Sea has also become a growing source of tension between Washington and Beijing. While the United States is not a claimant state, it says it has a national interest in the peaceful settlement of disputes in the South China Sea and in freedom of navigation in waters that are critical for world trade.

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In October, the U.S. deployed a guided missile destroyer near a different reef to challenge Beijing’s claim of sovereignty in the waters around the artificial islands. China blasted the U.S. action and warned Washington not to repeat the maneuver.

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TAGS: artificial island, China, Features, Fiery Cross Reef, Philippines, reclamation, South China Sea, US, Vietnam, West Philippine Sea
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