China says it has sent a military aircraft to one of its controversial islands in the South China Sea in order to evacuate workers wounded during construction work there.
The Chinese Defense Ministry said in a statement posted on its website that the plane was on patrol on Sunday when it was ordered to head to the Fiery Cross Reef island to evacuate three workers and fly them to the country’s southernmost island province of Hainan for treatment.
China has reportedly transformed Fiery Cross Reef into a man-made island. It sent three commercial jets to the island in January after the runway on the island was completed.
In recent years, China has built major structures, including radar systems and air strips, over reefs and outcrops.
The move, however, has drawn criticism from regional countries as well as the United States, which accuse Beijing of undergoing a massive “land reclamation” program in the Spratly archipelago of the South China Sea.
Washington claims that Beijing’s alleged land reclamation could further militarize the region. Beijing, however, accuses Washington of meddling in regional issues and deliberately stoking tensions in the South China Sea.
China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, to parts of which Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines also lay claims of their own.
China is also locked in disputes with Japan and South Korea over the East China Sea.