China Operates Daily Charter Flights to “Capital” of Disputed South China Sea Island
Fahwad Al-Khadoumi (nsnbc) : China further aggravated its territorial dispute with Vietnam in the South China Sea a.k.a. West Sea by launching daily charter flights to Woody Island and Beijing’s “administrative capital” in the South China Sea.
Both China and Vietnam claim sovereignty over the disputed Paracel archipelago. China’s State news agency Xinhua announced that China has begun daily civilian charter flights to Woody Island in the South China Sea which Vietnam calls the East Sea, after approving the airport there for civilian operations.
The maiden flight took off on Wednesday from Haikou, the provincial capital of Hainan Island. A ticket on the daily flight costs roughly 1,200 Yuan ($172.77) one-way. The island’s airport is a joint military-civilian facility and was approved for civilian operations last Friday, reports Xinhua, adding that “This will effectively improve the working and living conditions of civil servants and soldiers based in Sansha city”. The flights will reportedly leave Haikou Airport at 8:45 a.m. and return from Woody Island at 1 p.m.
The island, which is also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan, is the seat of what China calls Sansha City which Beijing describes as China’s administrative center in the seas to its south. The Paracel archipelago includes some 130 small islands and reefs, distributed over a maritime area of around 15,000 square kilometers. area is about 7.75 square kilometers, but China has plans to “develop” more land. China has, in any case, plans that in the eyes of Beijing, justify the election of local officials in what it calls its Sansha province of prefecture.
The archipelago is located approximately equal distance from the coastlines of the People’s Republic of China and Vietnam. In November 1946 forces of the Republic of China landed on the Woody Island in the Amphitrite Group but the forces abandoned the island again in May 1950. The islands were then re-occupied in late 1955, this time by troops of the People’s Republic of China.
French and Vietnamese troops occupied the Pattle Island in the Crescent Group in January 1947. In 1955 South Vietnam took possession of the Crescent Islands in the Battle of the Paracel Islands in 1974. South Vietnam’s territorial claim was inherited by the Socialist Republic of Vietnam which has ruled all of Vietnam since the victory over South Vietnamese and US forces in 1976.
Officials in Beijing have laid claim to almost all of the waters through which $5 trillion of maritime trade passes each year. The Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan all have overlapping claims in the area.
The territory claimed by China within what it describes as the nine-dashed-line includes among others, significant sectors of Vietnam’s EEZ. (See map)
China has been building airfields on other contested islands as part of a controversial land reclamation program; in July civilian aircraft successfully carried out calibration tests on two new airports in the Spratly Islands, on Mischief Reef and Subi Reef. Though China calls it a city, Sansha’s permanent population is no more than a few thousand, and many of the disputed islets and reefs in the sea are uninhabited. In February, Taiwan and U.S. officials said China had deployed an advanced surface-to-air missile system on Woody Island.
In October 2016 Vietnam protested again China holding “elections” in Sansha, Beijing’s self-proclaimed “administrative capital” in the South China Sea. Referring to the elections, Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh asserted that such illegal actions could not challenge the truth about Vietnam’s sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa. He stressed that Vietnam resolutely opposes these steps and asks China to respect Vietnam’s sovereignty, to immediately end the wrongful actions, and to seriously abide by the Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the East Sea, as well as the Agreement on Basic Principles guiding the Settlement of Issues at Sea, between Vietnam and China.
In mid-December 2016 Le Hai Binh commented on a report that showed that Beijing continued the militarization of the disputed territory, saying: “Vietnam is very worried (to hear) about this information” about China’s apparent deployment of the weapons systems in disputed territories in the East Sea (Sector of the South China Sea bordering Vietnam).
He reiterated that Vietnam strongly opposes any activity that violates its sovereignty and militarizes the region, as well as any activity that could be “threatening peace, stability, security, safety and freedom of navigation in the East Sea” He stressed that Vietnam has full legal grounds and historical evidence to prove its sovereignty over the Hoang Sa (Paracel) and the Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelagos.
Le Hai Binh’s statement followed a report published by CSIS’s Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, featuring commercially available Digital Globe satellite images. The images show what appears to be anti-aircraft guns and what are likely to be close-in weapons systems (CIWS) on the artificial island Hughes Reef in the South China Sea, reported CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency.
CH/L – nsnbc 23.12.2016