China’s official Xinhua news agency says it has formed a municipal council for a group of newly established cities in a disputed part of the South China Sea, and has authorized the deployment of a military base in the area.
In the published report Sunday in China, 45 deputies have been elected to a municipal people’s congress, representing 1,100 residents of several islands known in Chinese as Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha. The council will be headquartered on an island that China has named Yongxing, and the 3 islands in question are part of the new city called Sansha.
Chinese officials have indicated that it’s Central Military Commission has approved the formation of a Sansha garrison command and has authorized the deployment of a military base in the area, saying it is China’s responsibility to lend aid to the national defense of the region.
The Washington, DC based Center for a New American Security said the formal deployment of Chinese troops into the area is the latest example of Beijing trying to boost its influence in the area.
Oriana Skylar Mastro, An expert in Asian-Pacific affairs from the center, said in a statement: “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.”
In a statement Saturday, the Vietnamese government said it opposes the establishment of city 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.
The islands are claimed in whole or in part by the countries of Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.