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Iran Press TV

Beijing starts civilian charter flights to disputed South China Sea island

Iran Press TV

Thu Dec 22, 2016 3:36PM

China has begun daily civilian charter flights to an island in the South China Sea, which has long been at the center of territorial dispute between Beijing and its neighbors.

The first Chinese passenger plane touched down Thursday at the Sansha City airport in Yongxing Island, also known as Woody Island, China's Xinhua news agency reported.

"This will effectively improve the working and living conditions of civil servants and soldiers based in Sansha City," the report added.

Yongxing Island, with some 1,400 inhabitants, is the largest island of the Paracels chain, called Xisha in China, located off the coast of the southern province of Hainan on China mainland.

Beijing asserts sovereignty over almost all of the strategically-vital South China Sea despite rival claims from its Southeast Asian neighbors.

China has reportedly deployed a missile defense system and fighter jets to the island.

Beijing hopes to turn the area around Yongxing into a "major tourist attraction," the state-run China Daily said in May.

The United States, which is opposed to China's growing influence in the region, has taken side with Beijing's rivals.

China does not look favorably upon the US military's presence in the region, saying Washington is only there to stir regional tensions.

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