Hanoi slams ‘erroneous statements’ on China island flights
HANOI—Vietnam accused China of making “erroneous statements” in the latest round of an escalating diplomatic spat over flights to a disputed reef in the South China Sea.
China has conducted several flights this year through Vietnamese airspace to a newly built runway on Kagitingan Reef (Fiery Cross Reef) in the Spratly archipelago, which is claimed by both countries as well as by the Philippines.
Hanoi has accused Beijing of threatening regional safety with the “unannounced” flights, but China hit back, arguing it has the right to conduct “state aviation activities.”
Hanoi fired off the latest barb late Tuesday in the increasingly bitter diplomatic spat, saying Beijing was making “erroneous statements” by claiming it had informed Vietnamese air traffic control about the flights.
“Ho Chi Minh … Control Center did not receive any notification by China of the flight plans,” foreign ministry spokesperson Le Hai Binh said in a statement released late Tuesday.
The flights are “aimed at asserting their illegal sovereignty claims over the Trong Sa archipelago,” he said, referring to the Spratlys by their Vietnamese name.
China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Hong Lei, told reporters on Monday that China’s three test flights to the artificial island on Kagitingan Reef were state aviation activities and had no restrictions under international law.
Hong said China informed Vietnamese aviation authorities last Dec. 28 and foreign ministry two days later about them.
He said Vietnam had failed to see “the professional, technical and civil nature of China’s inspection and test flights.”
Binh disputed Hong’s statements and said that at the meeting with the Chinese Embassy representative, Vietnam protested and demanded China cancel the flights.
Vietnam this year logged at least 46 incidents of Chinese planes flying without warning through airspace monitored by air traffic control in the southern metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, according to authorities cited by local media.
State media also reported that Vietnam sent a protest letter about the flights to Beijing, as well as the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization (Icao).
Beijing began work in 2014 on a 3,125-meter runway on Kagitingan Reef, around 1,000 kilometers from China’s island province of Hainan.
China’s claim to almost all of the South China Sea puts it at odds with regional neighbors the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, which also stake partial claims. Reports from AFP and AP
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