China to formally garrison disputed South China Sea

BEIJING Sun Jul 22, 2012 10:27am EDT

A handout picture of Chinese marine surveillance ship, offshore of Vietnam's central Phu Yen province May 26, 2011 and released by Petrovietnam May 29, 2011. REUTERS/Handout

A handout picture of Chinese marine surveillance ship, offshore of Vietnam's central Phu Yen province May 26, 2011 and released by Petrovietnam May 29, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Handout

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BEIJING (Reuters) - China's powerful Central Military Commission has approved the formal establishment of a military garrison for the disputed South China Sea, state media said on Sunday, in a move which could further boost tensions in already fractious region.

China has a substantial military presence in the South China Sea and the move is essentially a further assertion of its sovereignty claims after it last month upped the administrative status of the seas to the level of a city, which it calls Sansha.

The official Xinhua news agency said the Sansha garrison would be responsible for "national defense mobilization ... guarding the city and supporting local emergency rescue and disaster relief" and "carrying out military missions".

It provided no further details.

Sansha city is based on what is known in English as Woody Island, part of the Paracel Islands also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan. China took full control of the Paracels in 1974 after a naval showdown with Vietnam.

Though Sansha's permanent population is no more than a few thousand, mostly fishermen, its administrative responsibility covers China's vast claims in the South China Sea and its myriad mostly uninhabited atolls and reefs.

The state-run Vietnam News Agency said Vietnam had protested against the Chinese decision. It cited a month-old statement by a senior official that the designation of "the so-called Sansha city" was illegal and overlapped with districts Vietnam identified as its own.

Earlier this month, hundreds of Vietnamese demonstrated in Hanoi against China's establishment of Sansha city and its invitation to oil firms to bid for blocks in offshore areas that Vietnam claims as its territory.

The South China Sea has become Asia's biggest potential military flashpoint as Beijing's sovereignty claim over the huge area has set it against Vietnam and the Philippines as the three countries race to tap possibly huge oil reserves

Southeast Asian states sought to save face on Friday with a call for restraint and dialogue over the South China Sea, but made no progress in healing a deep divide about how to respond to China's growing assertiveness in the disputed waters.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Wan Xu in Beijing and Hanoi newsroom; Editing by Ron Popeski)

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Comments (12)
derdutchman wrote:
What is the U.N. position on countries taking possession of territory by force of arms? Oh, I almost forgot. China has a veto on U.N. positions. Sansha 1; South China Sea 0.

Jul 22, 2012 11:31am EDT  --  Report as abuse
owl905 wrote:
This has nothing to do with the UN or veto power.

This has everything to do with another display of raw power as China bullies its neighbors. The Chinese economy has sputtered, and the Government is taking a temper tantrum on the South China Seas dispute.

Jul 22, 2012 11:59am EDT  --  Report as abuse
owl905 wrote:
It isn’t looniness – there are over a hundred border disputes around the globe – Gibralter, many African borders, about a dozen along the current Chinese border. There’s even a border dispute between Canada and Denmark over some rock spike in the Arctic Ocean.

If there’s a parallel to the Chinese unilateral action, it’s the Argentine seizure of the Falkland Islands.

Jul 22, 2012 1:00pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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