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DigitalGlobe imagery of the nearly completed construction within the Fiery Cross Reef located in the South China Sea
DigitalGlobe—ScapeWare3/Getty Images

China on Monday landed a military aircraft on one of the disputed islands it claims in the South China Sea, marking the first time it has done so publicly and furthering concerns that it is planning to base fighter-jet fleets there.

The state-run People’s Liberation Army Daily said the aircraft was patrolling over the Fiery Cross Reef when it received an emergency call to evacuate three workers there who had fallen ill, Reuters reported.

The 3,000-ft. runway at Fiery Cross Reef is one of three Chinese aircraft facilities in the Spratly Island chain, constructed despite protests by the U.S. and several countries in the region. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan all have claims to the area, through which billions of dollars of international trade pass every year, Reuters says.

China considers virtually the entire region its territory, and has not heeded international calls to stop building military bases there. According to a military expert quoted by the state-linked Global Times newspaper, Monday’s successful landing indicates the runway is up to military standards and could even see combat aircraft based there in the event of a conflict.


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