China has dismissed Vietnam’s protest over a test flight to a new airstrip on reclaimed land on disputed islands of the South China Sea.
State media reported Sunday that Hua Chunying, Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said that the test flight with a civilian aircraft to a reef in the Spratly Islands was "completely within China's sovereignty."
The response late Saturday came after a spokesperson for Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry expressed Hanoi’s protest against China landing a plane on an airfield on Fiery Cross Reef -- known as Yongshu Jiao in China.
Hua, however, said that Beijing had "conducted a test flight to the airport with a civil aircraft in order to test whether or not the facilities on it meet the standards for civil aviation."
Underlining what Beijing considers its "indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha [Spratly] Islands and their adjacent waters," she said that China "will not accept the unfounded accusation from the Vietnamese side."
She added that meanwhile relations between the two countries were undergoing "a momentum of development," and expressed hope that "the Vietnamese side can work with China in the same direction and make concrete efforts to sustain the sound and stable growth of bilateral ties."
According to a report by Washington-based think-tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the 3,000-meter Chinese airstrip is the largest in the region, where four other claimants have such structures.
Beijing’s efforts have resulted in the transformation of Fiery Cross Reef from a mere coral head sticking about a meter out of water into the largest land feature.
According to the CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, an air base at the site would grant China "much-improved situational awareness" and allow it "to deploy rotations of maritime surveillance aircraft."
While China has conducted reclamation projects on seven features of the islands, Vietnam has undertaken efforts on two -- Sand Cay and the West Reef.
China claims almost the whole of the potentially oil and mineral-rich South China Sea, but several other Asian nations have also laid claim.
Criticism by other claimants has recently been mounting against "aggressive" Chinese efforts in the sea waters, including the Spratlys -- also claimed by Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.
In 2014, China began a massive reclamation project in the Spratlys, adding around 3,000 acres of artificial land and turning what were mere rocks barely above water at low tide into artificial islands large enough to host runways long enough to accommodate high-performance jet aircraft and naval docking.