A military plane belonging to the Chinese Air Force landed for the first time on Yongshu Jiao, or Fiery Cross Reef on the Spratly Islands, for which Beijing has disputes with Manila, Hanoi and other neighbours.
The aircraft landed on a yet unknown date on the airstrip built by China on the reef, where the first civil flights began in January, Efe news reported on Monday.
China’s foreign ministry on Monday confirmed the plane’s landing but tried to downplay the incident defending it as part of a rescue mission.
The construction of the runway on the Fiery Cross Reef had led to an artificial extension of the reef and triggered protests from neighbouring countries, including Vietnam, whose government claimed that the runway had been illegally built on its territory.
The US and Japan also expressed concern that the construction of infrastructure for possible military use in the disputed waters of South China Sea could elevate tensions in the region.
Other countries, including the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also claim total or partial sovereignty over the Spratly Islands.
China is also locked in similar territorial disputes over the control of the Paracel archipelago.