The official Sino Weibo account of the PLA Air Force released a group of photos and a video clip of an H-6K bomber's island/reef takeoff and landing training on May 18, drawing extensive attention from domestic and foreign media.
Considering the location of the runway and other infrastructure in the video released by the PLA Air Force, an article published by the US Defense News said that the airport where the H-6K took off and landed was situated on the Yongxing Island, one of the Xisha Islands, and was not the airport that China has built on the Nansha Islands.
In the video clip, the number 23 appeared at the end of the runway, which is consistent with the runway number on the Yongxing Island as shown in satellite photos.
A Chinese military expert who asked for anonymity told the reporter that the H-6K bomber flew to the Yongxing Island for its first landing in the South China Sea perhaps for three reasons.
First, the airport on the Yongxing Island has existed for many years with complete facilities. Its runway is about 3,000m long, which is convenient for the takeoff and landing of large planes like the H-6K. Boeing 737 passenger planes used to take off and land there.
Second, by taking off from there, the H-6K gains certain strategic advantages. When it takes off fully loaded with conventional bombs, it is able to cover all of Vietnam in the west and the entire Taiwan Island in the east, and still include all the Nansha islands in the south. The scope of coverage is even larger if it takes off with a full fuel tank.
Third, the Yongxing Island is located in the Xisha Islands, so the H-6K taking off from there wouldn’t draw too much attention from the South China Sea claimants, thus minimizing objections from the international community.
Of course China has every right to have the H-6K take off and land at the airport in the Nansha Islands because that's within its own territory. The H-6K's taking off and landing on the Yongxing Island shows China's restraint on the South China Sea issue.
Disclaimer: The authors are Li Qiang and Liu Yang, reporters with Global Times. The article is translated from Chinese into English by the China Military online. The information, ideas or opinions appearing in this article are those of the authors and do not reflect the views of eng.chinamil.com.cn. Chinamil.com.cn does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same. If the article carries photographs or images, we do not vouch for their authenticity.