China lands more civilian planes on Fiery Cross reef

Dozens of people on tarmac of artificial island, with two planes behind, holding up a banner in Chinese Image copyright Xinhua
Image caption The crew celebrated the landing alongside residents of the artificial island

China has landed two civilian planes on an artificial island built in the disputed South China Sea, days after an earlier landing there prompted international concern.

Xinhua state news agency released pictures of two commercial jets on the Fiery Cross Reef, which it called by its Chinese name Yongshu.

Vietnam and the US protested China's 2 January landing of a plane on the reef.

The resource-rich South China Sea is claimed by multiple countries.

China claims nearly the whole sea and is locked in a territorial dispute with other Asian nations such as Vietnam and the Philippines, who also claim parts of it.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption A satellite picture taken in September shows extensive construction on Fiery Cross

Xinhua said that the China Southern and Hainan Airlines planes took off from Haikou airport on Wednesday morning and landed on Fiery Cross around 10:30am (02:30 GMT). They returned to mainland China in the afternoon.

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Pictures show the planes on a brand-new strip of tarmac at what Xinhua called "our country's most southern airport".

The reef is part of the Spratly Islands chain which is claimed by China, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Vietnam had earlier accused China of violating its sovereignty with Saturday's landing, while the US expressed concern.

Beijing in return insisted it had "indisputable sovereignty" over the area, and said it conducted that flight to test whether airfield facilities met standards for civil aviation.

In April last year satellite images released by IHS Jane's Defence Weekly showed China making progress with building an airstrip on that reef.

China says it is building artificial islands and structures on reefs for civilian purposes, but other countries have expressed concern over the possibility of using the facilities for military purposes.

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