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China Just Landed Its Biggest Warplane on Kagitingan Reef

China’s Y-20 aircraft was spotted on the Philippine island on Christmas Day.
IMAGE Fasttailwind / Shutterstock
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Kagitingan Reef is part of the Kalayaan Islands Group in the West Philippine Sea. It is being claimed by the Philippines, China, and Vietnam. On Christmas Day, military sources reported China landed its biggest warplane on the island. Days later, China conducted massive military drills in the waters surrounding Kagitingan.

The warplane, codenamed Y-20, is used as a military transport aircraft to resupply units or transport military hardware such as radars, missiles, and tanks. It can also be used to transport troops.

Currently, the Y-20 is the biggest aircraft in China’s military. According to the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, the People’s Liberation Army is currently developing new engines so the Y-20 could have a longer range.

In 2014, China unilaterally reclaimed and militarized Kagitingan Reef. They built an airstrip, installed radar, and turned the reef into a military base. With Kagitingan Reef in China’s control, the country significantly tightened its strategic grip on the West Philippine Sea. China can also launch attacks from Kagitingan Reef by sending out bombers or fighter planes to take out enemy vessels at sea. And unlike aircraft carriers, islands cannot be sunk. 

Why China Landed Its Massive Aircraft on Kagitingan Reef

It is unclear what mission China’s Y-20 aircraft undertook on Kagitingan Reef, but the more important fact is that China is clearly projecting its capabilities in the West Philippine Sea. 

The feat also means China is already able to respond quickly if incidents occur in the West Philippine Sea. From the mainland, it is now able to deploy within hours anything that could fit inside a Y-20. 

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From 2013 to 2015, China successfully reclaimed and militarized seven reefs in the South China Sea, six of which are in the West Philippine Sea. The six are Mabini Reef, McKennan Reef, Calderon Reef, Kagitingan Reef, Panganiban Reef, and Burgos Reef.

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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor, Esquire Philippines
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