Vietnam protested last week against a Chinese military transport mission in the disputed South China Sea, calling it a violation of Vietnamese sovereignty, according to a spokesperson on Thursday.
According to Chinese state media, on September 16, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) dispatched a number of Y-20 large transport aircraft to return troops from three outposts in the Spratly Islands – known in China as Nansha – to the mainland.
According to the Global Times, a publication of the Chinese Communist Party’s mouthpiece People’s Daily, this was the first time the PLA confirmed that this new type of aircraft had been operating on islands and reefs in the South China Sea.
At a regular press briefing in Hanoi on Thursday, Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang stated that Vietnam demands that China respect its sovereignty over the Paracel archipelago – which Vietnam refers to as Hoang Sa – and the Spratlys (Truong Sa), and that similar activities cease immediately.
Hang went on to say that China should follow international law as well as the “common understanding shared by Vietnamese and Chinese leaders of remaining maritime issues.”
According to the PLA South Sea Fleet, several Y-20 transport aircraft of the PLA Air Force took off last Thursday from airfields on Fiery Cross Reef, Subi Reef, and Mischief Reef, “carrying veterans who were garrisoned there to the Chinese mainland.” Previously, such missions were carried out by ships, according to the report.
China controls the three reefs, which are also claimed by Taiwan, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Despite the unresolved territorial disputes, China, which claims the majority of the South China Sea, has extensively developed the three features with military facilities and airstrips.
According to a Chinese newspaper, the latest mission means that “the PLA airfields in the South China Sea can host large transport aircraft, which can transport a relatively large number of troops and numerous pieces of equipment between the islands and reefs and the mainland very quickly.”
A Y-20 cargo plane was spotted landing on Fiery Cross Reef in December of last year, but it was not confirmed until now.
Malaysia accused China of violating its airspace in June after detecting “suspicious activity” by 16 Chinese military aircraft, including Il-76 and Y-20 transporters, over disputed waters off the coast of its state of Sarawak.
Malaysia dispatched fighter jets to intercept the Chinese planes, describing the maneuver as a “serious threat to national sovereignty” and threatening to summon China’s ambassador in a diplomatic protest.
China insisted that its air force “strictly adhered to international law without entering other countries’ airspace.”
The Xi’an Y-20 is China’s first heavy military transport aircraft developed in-house. It can carry up to 300 troops and has a payload capacity of more than 60 tons. The PLA Air Force is thought to have 20 of these aircraft in service.
In other news, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense announced on Twitter on Thursday that 24 Chinese air force aircraft had entered the island’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ). Beijing has yet to respond to this.
This is the second-highest number of daily incursions by Chinese military planes into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. On June 15, the highest temperature was 28 degrees Fahrenheit.