News / Asia

China Approves City Council, Military Base in Disputed Islands

Protesters hold banners while chanting slogans during an anti-China protest along a street in Hanoi, July 22, 2012.
Protesters hold banners while chanting slogans during an anti-China protest along a street in Hanoi, July 22, 2012.

China says it has formed a municipal council for a newly established city in a disputed part of the South China Sea, and has authorized the deployment of a military base in the area.

In a report published Sunday, China's official Xinhua news agency says 1,100 residents of several islands known in Chinese as Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha have elected 45 deputies to a municipal people's congress. The islands are part of the new city called Sansha, and the council will be based on an island that China refers to as Yongxing, known in English as Woody Island.

Xinhua also says China's Central Military Commission has approved the formation of a Sansha garrison command responsible for "national defense" and "military operations."

The Chinese government declared the establishment of Sansha last month, saying its role is to administer the disputed Paracel and Spratly archipelagos and surrounding South China Sea waters, which are believed to hold oil and natural gas deposits. The islands are claimed in whole or in part by Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

In a statement Saturday, the Vietnamese government said it opposes the establishment of Sansha. It called the move a "serious violation" of Hanoi's sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly chains, which it claims as part of Danang city and Khanh Hoa province respectively. The state-run Voice of Vietnam quotes authorities in Danang and Khanh Hoa as saying Beijing risks harming the friendship between the two neighbors. 

China has administered the Paracel chain that includes Woody Island since a 1974 naval conflict with Vietnam. 

Oriana Skylar Mastro, an Asia-Pacific expert at the Washington-based Center for a New American Security, said the formal deployment of Chinese troops in the archipelagos is the latest example of Beijing trying to boost its influence in the area. 

"Are a couple of reservists sitting on some shoals or reefs actually going to make a military difference? Probably not. But, when you look at it in the broader subset of Chinese coercive diplomacy and how they're using exhibitionary military moves to show their resolve and they couple that with political moves, it seems that they're making a very significant leap forward in what they're trying to accomplish in the area," she said. 

China also upset Vietnam last month when Chinese state oil company CNOOC invited foreign investors to jointly develop nine oil fields in the South China Sea. In another move that worried its neighbors, China sent its largest ever fishing fleet to the Spratly islands last week. Chinese fishermen and fisheries personnel have engaged in several confrontations with vessels of other nations in those waters in recent years, drawing more protests. 

Mastro said Chinese officials and media regularly deny that such confrontations reflect an official policy of harassment. 

"You will see Chinese articles about this that will say it's just fishermen that were so upset about what had happened, that they went off on their own and did this, or the Chinese fisheries administration was just doing their job. And a lot of the deniability comes from Chinese academics and policymakers conveying the Chinese position to American academics or policymakers or think tankers. So it makes it difficult for Vietnam, the Philippines and the United States to respond in any aggressive manner if China says, 'we understand you are frustrated, but we can't control it," she said. 

China and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have failed to agree on a Code of Conduct for resolving South China Sea territorial disputes. They discussed the issue at an ASEAN summit in Cambodia earlier this month. 


Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

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by: Charlie from: UK
July 27, 2012 4:06 PM
This is just another of China's devious steps in securing their territorial claim over the whole South China .I wonder,America who has always boasted as an Asia-Pacific naval power since WW2,still just sits back and tacitly let the Chinese take over control of the whole region right under their nose.America is simply untrustworthy as an ally,that's why Vietnam has made the right decision in disclosing their intention of letting out the Cam Ranh Bay to the Russians as a counter measure to the Chinese territorial expansion in South East Asia.We all know the Russians are quite ruthless and mean business when it comes down to territorial disputes.Last week's sea incident in Eastern Japan Sea when the Russian coast guards shot at one Chinese fishing boat which was illegally fishing in their waters.How did the Chinese react? Acting like a gentleman and agreeing to pay fines so that they could secure the release of the Chinese crew from Russian custody.At last the Chinese have met their match! LOL!


by: Meg from: Germany
July 25, 2012 5:01 PM
@Steve J. from: USA
"That is why Viet Nam got so many wars in centuries than any countries in this world!!!"

Do you think you come to your conclusion so quickly without thoughtfulness? You started with some Vietnamese and come to conclude for the whole country. How clever you are!
As a human, if your stronger neighbor wants to make your beautiful house as their garden or even as a place to put their wastes and kick you out, how do you respond? You stand and speak up for yourself or you just lie down on ground close your eyes and cry?
If someone here misses some knowledge about the Vietnamese wars, do you think who they are? Did you go to university/government libraries to look for historical materials about the Vietnam wars or you just "google" them and collect information from wiki and then make your points?
I appreciate your time here, and hope you're back soon with some further opinions about the Vietnamese wars.


by: Hoang from: Canada
July 25, 2012 4:51 PM
To Steve J. (U.S.) but is actually Chinese,
Vietnamese fight wars to defend its sovereignty against invaders and always won such as Mongols, Chinese and French. Only the Vietnamese Communist leaders are weak and sold our land and sea to China. The truth is that Hoang Sa(Paracel) and Truong Sa(Spratly) islands belong to Vietnam. Vietnam wants to go to international arbitration to proof its claim. China wants to negotiate bilaterally to bully smaller Asian countries and claim entire East Sea.


by: Steve J. from: USA
July 24, 2012 10:47 PM
There are some Vietnamese posted their extremist national viewpoint toward islands dispute. They ignore the truth. They are told to be hero when fighting with others who disagree with them at any points. They love wars. That is why Viet Nam got so many wars in centuries than any countries in this world!!!


by: Meg from: Germany
July 24, 2012 6:14 PM
@Jonathan Huang from: canada
I thought only Chinese who never get out of China are brainwashed by their communist party but seems even living outside China, it is still very difficult for some of Chinese to open their eyes bigger and wiser to see and communicate to other part of the world.
The point here is that SCS does give the oil which will help a group of people in China becomes richer and much more richer but the rest of Chinese, huge number of people, are still poorest people on the world with very low education.


by: noname from: Korea
July 24, 2012 12:32 AM
The US government accused other countries of invasions while it razed Iraq and abetted the rebellion in Syria....ridiculous


by: Jonathan Huang from: canada
July 23, 2012 10:54 PM
to those ignorants who dont know any history about China and south China sea, I suggest you use wikipedia and read about the spratly islands disputes if you know how to read, before you post any stupid comments here, Thanks! Suppose wekipedia is not running by CCP, and Taiwan is not ruled by CCP, LOL


by: Jonathan Huang from: canada
July 23, 2012 10:50 PM
to Ian (USA), I think you are wrong. Because Taiwan also claims all south China sea. And it was not just since 1974 obviously.
From 1932 to 1935, the ROC continued to include the territory in its administrative area through the Map Compilation Committee. When France claimed nine islands of the territory in 1933, it immediately encountered a revolt from Chinese fishermen and a protest from the Republic of China government in Nanking. Although China continued to claim the islands, the Second Sino-Japanese war drew its attention for the meantime from 1937 onwards. After the second world war, China reclaimed sovereignty over the islands through post World War II arrangements based on various treaties of the Allied Powers[20] and China built a stone marker on the island.
In 1947, the ROC government renamed 159 islands in the area and published the Map of the South China Sea Islands. The ROC was the first government to establish a physical presence in the Spratly Islands. It has occupied Taiping Island, the largest island in the Spratlys, constantly since 1956.[21]


by: Ian from: USA
July 23, 2012 3:03 PM
To Jonathan Huang (Canada)
When one repeats a lie so many times he/she will start to believe it is the truth.
China have never owned Paracel & Spratly islands in the past. The earliest time was when they started a war with South Vietnam and stole paracel from South Vietnam in 1974 (pretending to help the North Vietnamese) All the old documents from the naval countries such as English, French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish said these islands belong to "Xu dang trong" which at the time was what South Vietnam is now.
Don't misleading peoples by using the general convenient term South China sea. if we start to call the sea east of China north Vietnam sea, Northwest philippine sea, South korean sea, South west japan sea , everybody will claim your "REAL" shore line, will that make you happy. (this is what your greedy government is trying to take from other countries now)


by: Siriguleng from: Inner Mongolia
July 23, 2012 11:39 AM
@Genghis Khan : Who you are? You dare to claim you are our great leader Genghis Khan. Get out and shut up your month.

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