Shanghai Airport Cancels Flights as Military Begins Sea Drills

Shanghai’s international airport announced 30 flight cancellations today as the Chinese military began exercises off the coast of the East China Sea.

The nation’s civil aviation authority warned yesterday that delays should be expected at Pudong international airport and the mostly domestic Hongqiao airport this afternoon because of heavy congestion. No reasons for the cancellations were given.

Shanghai, which is aiming to be a global financial center by 2020, has experienced delayed or canceled flights several times in the past year because of air pollution, including record levels of smog in December. The city enjoyed mostly sunny skies today though scattered rain and thunder are expected by this evening, according to the Shanghai Meterological Service.

The delays come as China holds live-fire drills off Beibu Bay, or the Gulf of Tonkin, near Vietnam and exercises in the Bohai Strait that both end Aug. 1. The drills in the East China Sea are routine and will have “limited impact” on civilian aviation, the Ministry of Defense said earlier this week.

President Xi Jinping has been expanding the reach of China’s navy and using the added muscle to more aggressively assert territorial claims in the region. Deadly, anti-Chinese riots broke out in Vietnam in May after China set up an oil rig in waters also claimed by that country, while Chinese and Japanese ships regularly tail one another off disputed islands in the East China Sea.

The PLA Daily, a publication of the Chinese military, said on its official microblog today that the drills weren’t the main reason for the delays and criticized the foreign media for exaggerating the military’s role.

The government issued a red alert for possible flight delays with capacity dropping 75 percent during the hours of 2 p.m. and 6 p.m., the Xinhua News Agency reported. Eight airports in eastern China were barred from landings during those hours.

China Southern Airlines Co., the nation’s biggest domestic carrier, canceled a flight from Shanghai to Wuhan that was scheduled to depart at 4:35 p.m., Shanghai Airport said on its official microblog today. China Eastern Airlines Corp., the second largest, canceled at least 19 flights yesterday, the Shanghai Daily reported today.