BEIJING, Jan. 3 (UPI) — Vietnam is accusing China of violating its sovereignty by landing a civilian plane on an artificial island on Saturday as contentious debate continues over the South China Sea.
China said its plane was on a test flight when it landed on the Fiery Cross Reef artificial island and that it has complete sovereignty over this island, but the Vietnamese foreign ministry said the airstrip the plane landed on was built illegally on part of the Spratly archipelago that lies within Vietnamese territory, BBC News reports.
Several nations in the region accuse China of illegally reclaiming land in contested areas to create artificial islands that could potentially host military bases. China claims the majority of the South China Sea, which results in overlapping claims by other Asian nations including Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia.
China has continuously defended its creation of artificial reefs, arguing it is legal and necessary to safeguard its own sovereignty.
The United States said it was concerned China’s flight has heightened tensions.
U.S. Department of State spokeswoman Pooja Jhunjhunwala said there was “a pressing need for claimants to publicly commit to a reciprocal halt to further land reclamation, construction of new facilities, and militarization of disputed features.”
“We encourage all claimants to actively reduce tensions from unilateral actions that undermine regional stability, and taking steps to create space for meaningful diplomatic solutions to emerge,” Jhunjhunwala said.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China “will not accept the unfounded accusation from the Vietnamese side,” adding that the test was conducted to see whether the airfield met with regulatory standards.