Strategic transport planes contribute to disaster relief, COVID-19 vaccine transportation: experts
By Liu Xuanzun
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force reportedly dispatched 16 aircraft comprising strategic transport planes to the South China Sea for routine flight training on Monday, without violating the airspace of other countries. Malaysia’s claim of the Chinese aircraft being a “serious threat to national sovereignty and flight safety” does not stand, and neither would China do such a thing, as China is looking to jointly maintain regional peace and stability with the friendly neighbor, Chinese experts said on Wednesday.
China’s strategic airlifters can play important roles in disaster and humanitarian relief tasks in the region, as they did with delivering COVID-19 vaccines and medical supplies, observers said.
Malaysia’s air force said on Tuesday that it detected 16 Chinese Air Force planes flying within 60 nautical miles off Sarawak state of Malaysian Borneo on Monday, calling it a “suspicious” activity over the South China Sea and a “serious threat to national sovereignty and flight safety,” Reuters reported on Wednesday.
The aircraft, comprising Ilyushin il-76 and Xian Y-20 strategic transporters, had traveled in an “in-trail” tactical formation at an altitude of between 7,000 and 8,230 meters, Reuters said.
In response to the incident, Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson of Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, confirmed at a regular press conference on Wednesday that the Chinese Air Force held a routine training operation in southern Nansha in the South China Sea.
It did not target any country, and the Chinese Air Force strictly abided by international law without entering the airspace of other countries, Wang said, noting that China has communicated with Malaysia over the matter.
Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times on Wednesday that the PLA’s strategic transport aircraft are no homebodies, and need to make long-distance flights to carry out their duties.
The South China Sea is a region where strategic transport aircraft need to cover for both military airlift and humanitarian aid tasks, so it is totally normal for them to hold routine exercises there, Song said.
Beijing-based military expert Wei Dongxu told the Global Times on Wednesday that if natural disasters or other humanitarian crises occur in the South China Sea, China’s strategic transport aircraft will play an important role and send relief personnel and supplies.
China’s strategic cargo planes have been playing a key role in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, and the PLA’s Y-20 airlifters were dispatched to deliver COVID-19 vaccines and other medical supplies to several countries around the world, including the South China Sea region.
Reuters reported that the foreign ministry of Malaysia on Tuesday said it would summon China’s envoy to explain the “intrusion.”
Song said that since China’s aircraft did not enter another country’s airspace, accusations of sovereignty violation do not stand.
As the PLA develops, training operations may become more frequent, but China will not pose threats to other countries, analysts stressed.
“China and Malaysia are friendly neighbors, and China is willing to continue bilateral friendly consultations with Malaysia to jointly maintain regional peace and stability,” Reuters quoted a Chinese Embassy spokesperson as saying over the matter.
Instead of being a threat, the development of China’s military capabilities is a stabilizing and constructive factor for the region, Wei said.