July 30, 2012. Sansha City didn’t even exist a week ago. Now, it’s the central hub of a shocking military and territorial expansion campaign being carried out by China. Located off the coast of Vietnam, the Paracel Island chain had been in dispute between the two countries. But with China’s surprise invasion last week, the resource-rich territorial waters now rest firmly under the control of the communist Chinese military, increasing China’s overall territory by an additional one-third.
A glimpse of life on China's newly acquired islands. Image courtesy of YNET.
On July 24, China officially established Sansha City and named it as the capital of the island chain. The brand new city will rule over the archipelagos of Nansha, Xisha and Zhongsha. Sansha City is also the location the Chinese military decided to base their military forces. Officials announced that the army garrison will remain to protect the country’s newly acquired territory.
The Chinese military base is small, existing on a 2.5 square kilometer patch of land called Yonxing. But the size of the force may not be as important as what its presence means to its threatened neighbors. According to Sansha City’s newly appointed Mayor, Ziao Jie, the armed forces stationed on the newly captured island chain are meant to, “safeguard national sovereignty and security, to strengthen the protection of resources and overall development in the South China Sea.”
Map of the South China Sea and each country's territorial claims. The Paracel Islands mark the location China just sent military troops. Image from Voice of America.
China’s neighbors outraged
A report by Voice of America News quotes Philippines President Benigno Aquino responding, “If someone enters your yard and told you he owns it, will you allow that?” Aquino also took the opportunity to announce his nation’s plans to buy military attack helicopters.
While Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and the Philippines all have reason to fear additional military aggression by the Chinese, it’s Vietnam that has the most legitimate claim of anger over last week’s capture of the Paracel Islands by China. The large string of islands and its rich fishing waters are closer to mainland Vietnam than they are to mainland China.
The VOA account goes on to report the reaction of US experts on the situation. Don Emmerson of Stanford University suggested this was merely the latest step in China’s attempt to take control of the entire 3.5 million square kilometer South China Sea. He illustrated his opinion saying, “One would even suggest that those within the People’s Liberation Army who are among the most vehement nationalists on this issue would like to see the South China Sea actually become a Chinese lake.”
The report also quoted Cato’s Justin Logan, who appears to assign some blame to Washington for its part in trying to police all the oceans of the world.
“If the United States had a somewhat more distant posture and wasn’t always rushing to assure its friends and allies in the region that we would be on the hook to ensure freedom of navigation, other countries in the region would be, in fact, more alarmed about China’s behavior,” Logan suggests, “But the idea that they see the United States at the forefront of this effort to constrain China’s ambition in the South China Sea allows them to stand back a little bit and play one side off the other.”
Reaction in China
If the article published today by China Daily is any indication, the Chinese people are enjoying their newly taken spoils. In fact, they’re already putting the land and facilities to commercial and industrial use.
18 days ago, the largest fleet of fishing boats in the history of China’s Hainan province (the large island off the coast of China) set sail to fish the waters of the disputed South China Sea. With an armada of 30 vessels, the Chinese commercial fishing fleet reported that it had incredible success.
According to statements from the Hainan fishery authority and the voyage’s deputy commander Liang Yapai, the entire operation was a ‘trial’ or ‘test’. Until now, Chinese fisherman typically only fish coastal waters around the many islands. This was the first time China tried its hand at “ocean fishing” – fishing in the wide open waters of the South China Sea. Both official Chinese sources called the test voyage a success.
The mission lasted 18 days, covered 3,268 kilometers, and all 30 boats returned to a port in Sanya, Hainan safely and without confrontation with other nations’ vessels. Also of extreme concern to China’s neighbors is the announcement by the Chinese that the voyage collected data on the fishing resources of the disputed islands, now occupied by Chinese forces.
“Nansha Islands have plenty of fishing resources,” the fishing expedition’s deputy commander said, “With the establishment of Sansha City and support from the government, we will go to the South China Sea for fishing more often.” To give readers an idea of how valuable the waters are around the just-occupied island chain, China’s large island province of Hainan processes 80,000 tons of fish each year. The area in disputed waters that China test-fished over the past two weeks, according to the Chinese report, “have a potential fishery volume of 5 million metric tons of fish every year.
Sansha – a goldmine for China
A separate account from China Daily explained why the large island chain is so important to China and what the communist government was doing to immediately develop it. The report explains, “There is a city in China with a population of less than 10,000 and an area of almost one-fourth of China’s territory. It is Sansha.”
The report describes how Sansha has been declared the seat of Chinese government for the region and facilities will be constructed on Yongxing Island to accommodate rule from there.
While many imagine a deserted island paradise, Sansha is anything but. Regardless of its small population of 10,000, the area already boasts an airport that can accommodate a Boeing 737, although residents admit those have been rare until now. Even with no tall buildings, the area does have other examples of business and industry. There are local government offices, a police station, hotels, a supermarket, restaurants, banks, post offices, a hospital, library, café and even a local insurance company. Since 2004, the islands have even had cell phone service.
Whiteout Press will report further details as they become available.
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