China will establish a military garrison on a disputed island in the South China Sea, part of an increased assertiveness in the resource-rich waters that’s straining ties with nations in the region and the U.S.
The garrison for the new city of Sansha was approved as 1,100 Chinese residents elected a legislature to oversee the area, the Xinhua News Agency reported yesterday. Sansha is on the Paracel Islands, which are also claimed by Vietnam.
The move adds to recent efforts by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan and Brunei to affirm command over disputed islands in the waters. While it may rile other claimants in the South China Sea, China sets up military garrisons in all its administrative districts, according to Arthur Ding, a research fellow at the Institute of International Relations in Taiwan.
“In order to show its seriousness, just like any other administrative area, China set up a military unit there,” Ding said in a phone interview. “It has nothing to do with combat preparation.”
About 150 Vietnamese protesters marched through Hanoi yesterday to decry China’s claims over the Spratly and Paracel islands. The demonstrators, including parents with toddlers and seniors, defied police requests to disperse and circumvented barricades aimed at preventing access to a square where the Chinese embassy is located.
The Xinhua report didn’t provide details on what kind of military personnel or hardware would be stationed on Sansha.
China welcomed a statement by the Association of Southeast Asians last week calling for self-restraint in resolving disputes in the waters. The 10-member bloc had failed to issue a communique after a meeting of foreign ministers this month for the first time in its 45-year history because members differed over wording that may have criticized China’s actions.
Asean’s eventual statement was “in line” with China’s policies, the official Xinhua News Agency said in a commentary published July 21.
In June, China’s State Council approved the establishment of the prefecture-level city to administer the Paracel and Spratly Islands. Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia have “de facto military occupation and administration” over most of the disputed islands in the South China Sea, parts of which are also claimed by Taiwan and Brunei, according to the International Crisis Group.
Sansha will be based on Yongxing, the largest island in the Paracels with an area of 2.1 square kilometers (0.8 square miles). The chain is several hundred kilometers southeast of Hainan. China ousted Vietnam from the 30 islets and reefs that comprise the Paracels in a 1974 battle in which 71 soldiers were killed.
Earlier this month, China rebuffed U.S. calls to quickly complete a code of conduct for the seas as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned more clashes are likely without a region-wide deal. Asean failed to reach consensus on handling disputes in the South China Sea.