China lands military plane at third Spratly Island, just 12 nautical miles from Philippines
China has deployed military aircraft to a third outpost in a disputed South China Sea island chain, a move which will alarm rivals who believe Beijing has ramped up its military presence in the region.
The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative published images showing a military aircraft, a Shaanxi Y-8, at Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands.
The plane was "designed as a military transport aircraft, but some variants are used for maritime patrol or signals intelligence," said the think tank, which is part of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
The photographs reveal the first deployment of military aircraft on the island, which hosts one of three runways in the strategically important Spratlys. Military aircraft have now landed on all three of the airstrips, the AMTI said.
The organisation said that a naval patrol aircraft landed at Fiery Cross Reef two years ago, while two Xian Y-7 military transport aircraft were seen on Mischief Reef in January.
The AMTI said the recent deployment "should be particularly concerning to the Philippines, which has about 100 civilians and a small military garrison on Thitu Island just 12 nautical miles away”.
The move comes after the United States warned last week that there would be "consequences" following a report that China had installed long-range missiles on the island chain.
Tensions have been escalating in the disputed waters in recent years as China transforms partially submerged reefs into fortified islands.
South China Sea – Competing claims in the Pacific
China says its military facilities are purely defensive, and that it can do what it likes on its own territory.
Beijing claims nearly all the South China Sea, despite partial counter-claims from Taiwan and several south-east Asian nations including the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam. Hanoi on Wednesday urged China to remove its missiles from the Spratly islands.
President Xi Jinping presided over China’s biggest ever military parade in the strategic waters last month.
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