Two civilian aircraft conducted successful test flights on Wednesday to a newly built airfield on Yongshu Jiao of the Nansha Islands. According to the Xinhua News Agency, the test "proved that the airport has the capacity to ensure the safe operation of large civilian aircraft," adding that the airport would facilitate the transport of supplies, personnel and medical aid.
The new airport on Yongshu Jiao is perhaps the biggest in the South China Sea. As the region is bristling with navigation and transportation, the airport, if put into proper use, will serve as an important pivot for regional development. Regrettably, the test flights have been hyped up by the US and Japan, claiming that China's act ratchets up tensions and "is a unilateral change of the status quo."
China hopes the South China Sea is a sea of peace and cooperation, which conforms to its national interests. All China's construction endeavors on reefs and islands of the Nansha Islands are in accordance with international law and it has promised to use the newly built reefs and islands for civilian purposes. If they were used to escalate tensions, this will run counter to China's interests.
It's understandable that some South China Sea countries have misgivings. However, China and these countries are able to prevent the misunderstanding from deepening through enhancing communication and thus avoid territorial disputes casting a shadow on regional cooperation. In recent years, despite spats on occasion, relevant parties all show restraint. There is no sign of severe conflicts in the region and it's obvious that the mainstream of the regional countries have the desire to resolve the South China Sea disputes in a peaceful way.
The most disruptive force comes from outside, primarily the US. Warships and fighters dispatched by the US repeatedly harassed the South China Sea last year. Washington has no interest in the peace of the South China Sea. It meddles for geopolitical gains, as does Tokyo.
China hopes to build reefs and islands into service centers and promote cooperation in the sea. Building an airport on Yongshu Jiao is not a prelude to the establishment of a South China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone. The most worrisome thing now is that Washington has repeatedly made military provocations against China. If Washington doesn't want to see the South China Sea reefs and islands become militarized, it should stop sending warships and fighters to China's reefs and islands. Countries within the region should not endorse such provocative acts.
China has reiterated that the newly built reefs and islands are mainly for civilian use. Instead of drawing support from external powers, the regional nations might wait and see whether China will keep its word.