The historical landing of a naval patrol aircraft on Yongshu Reef, part of the Nansha Islands, reflects that China’s installations in the South China Sea can provide better service in fulfilling the country’s humanitarian mission there, analysts said.
The analysts also predicted that the recent tension in the South China Sea will continue, and even escalate, if the United States keeps provoking China.
The patrol aircraft landed on the island on Sunday morning to pick up three construction workers who were seriously ill. It was the first time that a Chinese military aircraft has landed on Yongshu Reef.
The mission was ordered by Wu Shengli, commander of the PLA Navy, and Miao Hua, political commissar of the PLA Navy. The sick workers were taken to No 425 Hospital of the Navy in Sanya, Hainan province, to receive treatment.
Foreign spokesman Lu Kang told a regular news conference on Monday that it’s a good tradition of the People’s Liberation Army to rescue people in emergencies, and that the case is quite regular, as it happened on Chinese territory.
The Ministry of National Defense did not comment on the issue as of press time.
In January, the Foreign Ministry confirmed that China had completed an air-field on Yongshu Reef, the country’s southernmost airfield. On Jan 6, two civilian aircraft left Haikou in Hainan province and landed on Yongshu Reef after test flights of nearly two hours.
Zhang Junshe, a senior researcher at the PLA Naval Military Studies Research Institute, said that the rescue of the sick workers showed that China’s construction in the South China Sea is helpful for humanitarian rescue missions.
“The maritime situation in the South China Sea region is complex, with a large number of fishing boats and commercial ships. If a disaster occurs, China’s aircraft and ships can provide rescue service immediately with the equipment on the islands and reefs,” he said.
Zhong Zhenming, an international relations scholar at Tongji University in Shanghai, said that the landing of the naval aircraft on Yongshu Reef should not be seen as a threat to regional peace.
China has established hydrological observation points on Yongshu Reef since the 1980s, which has already been acknowledged by the international community, Zhong said. The installations can be helpful for navigation, anti-piracy and telecommunication efforts, he added.
“The US worries about China’s military deployment and strategic deterrence in the South China Sea region, especially after the land reclamation that occurred last year,” Zhong said. For example, he added, “It would be difficult for the US to detect if a Chinese submarine is deployed there.”
The recent tension in the South China Sea is going to continue, as the United States is trying to maintain its maritime control in Asia and the Pacific region, Zhong said.
“The US has its strategic goals in the region, while China’s stance on territorial sovereignty is also very firm,” he said. “The situation depends on how the two countries maintain a balance to make sure that both interests will be safeguarded.”
On Friday, US Defense Secretary Ash Carter visited the US aircraft carrier John C. Stennis on the final day of a joint US-Philippine military exercise. Carter told about 9,000 troops that the United States would back up the Philippines and other allies in the region.