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Philippines Denounces China's Test Flights in Spratlys

by VOA News January 07, 2016

The Philippines on Thursday denounced China after a pair of Chinese civilian jet airliners landed on a newly created island in a disputed section of the South China Sea.

On Wednesday, China landed two test flights on Fiery Cross Reef, claiming it was a test to see whether the airstrip on the man-made island could handle large civilian aircraft. The test flights occurred four days after China angered Vietnam with a landing on the same runway.

Manila said it is concerned China could impose military controls in the South China Sea, an area where six governments maintain overlapping maritime territorial claims.

'If this is not challenged, we will have a situation where China will take a position that ADIZ [air defense identification zone] could be imposed. Whether this is done in terms of a de facto basis or whether it is official, of course this will be deemed as unacceptable to us,' Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said in Manila.

Provocative actions

'We are very concerned and we are of course following these developments because these are provocative actions which we need to think about and we need to take positions on,' del Rosario added.

The Fiery Cross Reef runway is 3,000 meters long and is one of three China has been building for more than a year by dredging sand up onto reefs and atolls in the Spratly archipelago.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said Thursday 'freedom of navigation and overflight are non-negotiable,' and any attempt to restrict air and sea travel in the disputed South China Sea would be viewed as a 'red flag.'

Hammond, speaking at a joint news conference with del Rosario, is on a tour of three Asian countries, including China and Japan. He said Britain does not take sides in the regional dispute, but called on all parties to exercise restraint and respect international law.

Responding to Saturday's test flight, the U.S. State Department reiterated calls for a halt to land reclamation and militarization of outposts in those waters.

Freedom of navigation

Washington takes no formal position on the various sovereignty claims, but it insists disputes be settled peacefully and that freedom of navigation be maintained in the region.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Saturday's first test flight was 'civilian' in nature.

The Philippines has asked a United Nations-backed tribunal to void China's claim over almost the entire South China Sea. It expects a decision later this year.

Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have competing claims in the South China Sea, which hosts vital shipping lanes over vast oil and gas reserves. More than $5 trillion of world trade is shipped through the South China Sea every year.

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