BEIJING - China said Wednesday it has successfully tested two more airfields built atop coral reefs in the Spratly Islands with civil flights, bringing the number of airfields open to civil aircraft in the disputed South China Sea archipelago to three.
The official Xinhua News Agency report came a day after the Permanent Court of Arbitration, ruling on a landmark case brought by the Philippines, found China's claims to almost all of the South China Sea to be invalid and said its large-scale land reclamation and construction of artificial islands there have inflicted "irreparable harm" to the marine environment.
The report said China, which has rejected the ruling, has so far created three functioning airfields in the Spratlys -- on Mischief, Subi and Fiery Ross reefs, which it referred to by their Chinese names.
It said an Airbus A319 chartered by China Southern Airlines took off from Haikou, capital of China's southern island-province of Hainan, at 8:30 a.m. and landed on Mischief Reef two hours later, while a Hainan Airlines Boeing 737 took off from Haikou at 8:40 a.m. and landed on Subi Reef at 10:28 a.m.
Both planes returned to Haikou after a short stay on the reefs, which have all been turned into artificial islands.
Evidence presented at the court in The Hague shows that by November 2015, approximately 2,740,000 square meters of land had been created at Fiery Cross Reef, with sand and rock dredged from the seabed.
It now hosts a 3-kilometer runway, which opened in January, as well as a 630,000-square-meter harbor, cement plants, loading piers, communication facilities, defense equipment, two lighthouses, two helipads and a multilevel administrative facility adjacent to the runway.
At Mischief Reef, China's construction work has resulted in the creation of at least 5,580,000 square meters of new land, according to an estimate made to the court by the Philippines, which also claims it.
At Subi Reef, China has created an artificial island measuring approximately 3,950,000 square meters, with a runway of similar length, a large multi-level facility, towers and communications facilities, court documents show.