WASHINGTON -- U.S. military leaders are "concerned" after China landed three civilian airplanes in recent days on a newly built runway on one of the manmade islands it claims in the disputed South China Sea, a Pentagon spokesman said Thursday.
China landed two commercial jets on Fiery Cross Reef on Wednesday just days after it landed an airplane there for the first time since the runway was completed in September, according to China's state-run news agency Xinhua.
Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook confirmed the United States was aware of the three landings at the site in the Spratly Islands, which are also claimed by several other nations including the Philippines and Vietnam.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying described the latest moves to the Associated Press as tests of the airfield for "civil aviation" purposes.
But Cook said Thursday they only raise tensions in the region.
"We're concerned by all of these activities that are being conducted by the Chinese on these disputed islands in the South China Sea," he said. "... We don't pick sides in these disputes -- anything being done by any country to try to raise tensions over these disputed islands, to try to militarize or to engage in reclamation activities on these islands -- we think only adds to instability in the South China Sea."
Cook declined to say what, if any, actions the U.S. military might take in response to the latest Chinese maneuvers. In October, the United States challenged China's claims to another disputed reef in that area when it sailed a destroyer, the USS Lassen, within the 12-nautical-mile territorial water limit claimed by China around Subi Reef. China criticized the maneuver.
On Thursday, Cook called for China and the other nations who claim sovereignty of the islands in the South China Sea to find diplomatic solutions to their disputes.
"Certainly these flights do nothing to foster further stability and understanding in that part of the world, a very important part of the world to the United States and others," he said.