China has been working on constructing an artificial island with an airstrip on Fiery Cross Reef since 2014. The reef, known in Chinese as Yongshu Reef (永暑礁), and part of the Spratly Islands (Nansha, in Chinese), is also claimed by Taiwan, the Philippines, and Vietnam. China has occupied the reef since 1988.

Now that China’s 3,125 m-long (10,253 ft) runway is complete, they have taken the next step, by landing airplanes on it to welcome the new year, including two commercial jets.

Xinhua, the official state news agency, was proud of the achievement, saying in part, “The successful test flight proved that the airport has the capacity to ensure the safe operation of civil aviation large aircraft.”

The Oriental Morning Post featured a photo of the runway with the passengers and planes, one from Hainan Airlines and one from China Southern, on its front page on January 7, 2016. The headline refers to the runway as China’s southernmost “civil aviation” airport*.

(*The International Business Times article says: “Retired major general Xu Guangyu told the newspaper that the Chinese military will patrol the South China Sea using the airport, which will mainly serve civilian purposes, such as rescue work and transport of goods. “Military aircraft will take off from there sooner or later. Very likely within the first half of the year,” Xu said, noting that civil flight tests on the runway meant it was qualified for military use.”)

Untitled 69