MANILA, Philippines – Chinese bombers landed for the first time on an island in the South China Sea, Chinese state media reported.
The state-owned People’s Daily, the largest newspaper in China, shared the development and the video of the event on its Twitter page.
“Chinese bombers including the H-6K conduct takeoff and landing training on an island reef at a southern sea area,” People’s Daily tweeted on Friday.
The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said in a report on Friday that the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) announced the event on its Weibo account.
The CSIS is a 55-year-old independent think-tank based in the US.
AMTI said the video posted by People’s Daily “showed a long-range bomber landing and taking off from Woody Island – China’s largest base in the Paracel Islands.”
“AMTI has previously detailed Woody Island’s role as a blueprint for eventual deployments to the Spratly Islands farther south. China has built large hangars at all three of its ‘Big 3’ outposts in the Spratlys (Subi, Mischief, and Fiery Cross Reefs) that can accommodate bombers like the H-6 series (as well as large transport, patrol, and refueling aircraft),” AMTI said.
AMTI said that with the combat radius of the H-6 aircraft at nearly 1,000 nautical miles, "even China’s basic bombers taking off from Woody Island could cover the entire South China Sea."
"Nearly all of the Philippines falls within the radius of the bombers, including Manila and all 5 Philippine military bases earmarked for development under the US-Philippines Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement," AMTI said in its report.
The EDCA sites are in Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Edwin Andrews Air Base in Zamboanga City, Camp Bautista in Palawan, Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, and Lumbia Airport in Cagayan de Oro. (READ: Construction for PH-US EDCA military deal begins)
"An H-6K, with its technical upgrades giving it a combat radius of nearly 1,900 nautical miles, would dwarf this radius, putting all of Southeast Asia in range of flights from Woody Island," AMTI said.
"Future deployments to the Big 3 in the Spratlys would bring Singapore and much of Indonesia within range of even China’s lower-end bombers, while the H-6Ks could reach northern Australia or U.S. defense facilities on Guam," the report added.
The Philippines has remained silent on the missiles issue, citing its new strategy of engaging China under President Rodrigo Duterte's new foreign policy. This is in stark contrast to the position taken by the administration of President Benigno Aquino III, which had slammed China for deploying surface-to-air missiles on Woody Island in February 2016. (READ: Duterte: Remain 'meek, humble' to get 'mercy' of China's Xi)
Woody Island – Yongxing Island in China and Phu Lam Island in Vietnam – is the largest of the Paracel Islands. China has held all of the Paracel islands since a conflict with South Vietnam in 1974. (READ: FAST FACTS: South China Sea dispute) – Rappler.com