China’s Newest City Raises Threat of Conflict in South China Sea

China has declared its establishment of a municipal settlement on a disputed island chain in the South China Sea. The move, combined with an earlier announcement about the islands' militarization, further raises tensions in this geopolitical hot spot

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Hou Jiansen / Xinhua / ZUMAPRESS

A ceremony is held on July 24, 2012, to mark China's establishment of Sansha, a city on Woody Island in the disputed Paracels archipelago

Sansha, China’s newest city, would seem to be a paradise. It has tropical waters, about 2 million sq km and just 3,500 permanent residents on 13 sq km of palm-covered islands. There’s an airstrip but no airlines yet, so transportation is still largely relegated to a 17-hour boat trip. But perhaps the biggest drawback is that it sits in the South China Sea, where rival territorial claims have intensified in recent months. On Tuesday, Sansha established a prefecture-level municipal government, and China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) says it will soon establish a military garrison there. Sansha is the tiniest city of its kind in China, but it is having an outsize impact on the country’s increasingly tense territorial disputes with some of its Southeast Asian neighbors.

(MORE: South China Sea Disputes: Is This How War Starts?)

China and Taiwan both claim almost all of the 3 million-sq-km South China Sea, and the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei have partial claims. All except Brunei occupy disputed islands and reefs in the sea. The possibility of rich, undersea oil and gas resources has led to increasing conflict between the neighboring states, and analysts say China’s new city will only worsen the disputes. “All trends are in the wrong direction,” says Ian Storey, a senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. “The claimant countries have hardened their positions on jurisdictional claims. That’s made a legal resolution or a negotiated settlement harder because there’s less room for compromise.”

The dispute roiled the Association of Southeast Asian Nations foreign-ministers meeting in Cambodia that took place July 9–13. It failed to agree on a concluding joint statement for the first time since the group was founded in 1967. While the Philippines and Vietnam pushed for adding the South China Sea standoff to the statement, China’s ally Cambodia balked at including the issue, which China says it wants to resolve in bilateral discussions with each claimant rather than in a multilateral forum.

In April, the Philippines’ largest warship, the World War II–era frigate Rajah Humabon, confronted Chinese fishing boats it accused of harvesting endangered species near the Scarborough Shoal, which China calls Huangyan Island and the Philippines the Bajo de Masinloc. China sent marine surveillance vessels, and the Philippines soon replaced its warship with coast-guard craft, resulting in a standoff that still festers. The Philippines says it recalled its ships, but Chinese vessels remain near the shoal. “If someone entered your yard and told you he owned it, would you agree?” Philippine President Benigno Aquino said in his annual state of the nation address on Monday. “Would it be right to give away that which is rightfully ours?”

(MORE: Can Aquino’s China Visit Ease Tensions?)

Many Southeast Asian states are beefing up their armed forces in response to China’s new assertiveness. Last year the military budget for the Philippines, one of the weakest military powers in Asia, nearly doubled. That means increased risk in the South China Sea, according to a report released Tuesday by the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank. “While increased military power is likely to raise the threshold for, as well as cost of, armed conflict, it could also embolden countries to be more pro-active in their territorial claims, making skirmishes harder to resolve,” the report said. “There is a risk that in seeking to flex their military muscle, claimant states will engage in brinkmanship that could lead to unintentional escalation.”

The Philippines and Vietnam both protested China’s creation of Sansha. China announced the move on the same day that Vietnam issued a law declaring the Paracels and Spratlys to be in its jurisdiction. China, which took control of the Paracels after a brief war with South Vietnam in 1974, established Sansha’s government on the largest Paracel isle, Woody Island. Also known as Yongxing in Chinese, the island has a grocery store, hospital, library and karaoke parlor but as yet no kindergarten, according to reports of Chinese journalists who have visited. Yongxing will likely be the headquarters of a new PLA garrison, though few details have been revealed. “This pronouncement of a garrison is symbolic,” says Rory Medcalf, director of the international security program at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney. “It may take a long time to operationalize, but it is placing a firm military marker on China’s claim in the South China Sea.”

The disputing parties have often used paramilitary and civilian forces such as coast guard and fisheries enforcement agencies to defend their territorial claims. The move to establish a Sansha garrison, though, is a sign of the growing reliance on hard power. Another indicator was the July 11 grounding of a Chinese navy frigate on Half Moon Shoal, which is claimed by both China and the Philippines. Perhaps more surprising than the initial presence of the Chinese navy ship just 100 km off the Philippines’ Palawan province was the speed with which it received assistance from its compatriots. “In about 24 hours they got five ships, including a tugboat, to Half Moon Shoal, and that’s quite a way from China,” says Storey. “That goes back to the point of increasing militarization. These warships were clearly on patrol or somewhere in the area.”

For now, the most significant impact of Sansha may be to increase the importance of the conflict for average Chinese citizens. In recent weeks Chinese media have run personalized stories of reporters visiting the islands. “Both the city and the garrison unfortunately raise the emotional stakes for Chinese people,” says Medcalf. “That makes compromise even harder.”

190 comments
Yannis
Yannis

南海是中国有史以来的固有领海!  菲佣滚犊子! 

许冲
许冲

顺便说一句,那叫三沙市。By the way,the city's name is 三沙市。

许冲
许冲

我会告诉你我是中国人吗?

Abajay Co
Abajay Co

Fact: The region has proven oil reserves of around 7.7 billion barrels, with an estimate of 28 billion barrels in total. Natural gas reserves are estimated to total around 7,500 km³ (266 trillion cubic feet).  

New-comer Trying-Hard Imperialist Power-Resource Hungry China:

Just found It! here's an ancient map that has nine dashed line that says the entire Sea might be ours since our explorers have visited, passed-by and or even discovered this shoals (Oil underneath). 

The Phippines: Argues it is under it's 200-miles Exclusive Economic Zone UNCLOS. To choose between two-evil imperialist, rather choose U.S. 

How absurd China's claim when indeed everyone sees it's personal interest and greed. If the U.S. won't take the move now, China will be a bigger threat sooner. 

iamhe
iamhe

Nukes are not first strike offensive weapons. They are defensive deterrent weapons.

Nukes deter belligerent sociopathic governments from attacking.

Yoshi_1
Yoshi_1

And.....The NEW 500 pound gorilla flexes it's muscle.

We do, indeed, live in interesting times!

LSD2012
LSD2012

All peaceful until Super-Borrower US was "back to Pacific" as "Asian Power", as we all know that Americans cannot live a single day without war and Obama's goal to double export can be reached only by export of arms, if not revolution.

Kalabairava Vatuka
Kalabairava Vatuka

I join the entire world  in accusing the of the parasitic bully china.  China is a not a country, it is a company for profits (without corporate social responsibility). Its sucks the blood of its employees to show profits for its masters. It is like a credit card company forcing people to buy on credit and then holding them to ransom. China is sweatshop run by the govt. and the foolish duduong shamelessly defends China from being accused.  Take any country in the world to whom china has not sold their rubbish on credit basis. We are being fooled thinking these are of US quality because we are used to it. Yes I pity the brothers in china who slog it for the govt, but that does not take away our right to call a spade a spade.

terry12345
terry12345

..................war brewing?..............

IQMinusOne
IQMinusOne

The title is interesting. The conflict has been there since after World War 2 when Americans intentionally left islands unsettled. When Japan was defeated, its occupied islands were supposed to be restored to previous conditions, but Americans gave many small countries (including Japan in one case) administrative rights to various islands. This is a just a another version of empire builders stirring the pot by manipulating borders.

I think Americans really enjoy "playing God" around the world (they call it policing the world, as if the world had hired them to do so) . Well they are in a position to so but eventually the way those Americans doing thing overseas could back fire by corrupting the very values they fought hard for when they gained their own independence.

Cindy Ho
Cindy Ho

I can't believe ppl still response to "china fifty cent army" comments.  Well they may making 55 cent now through considering the inflation over the years.   Han chinese are the most racist ppl in the world.

Cindy Ho
Cindy Ho

I can't believe ppl still response to "china fifty cent army" comments.  Well they may making 55 cent now through considering the inflation over the years.   Han chinese are the most racist ppl in the world.

rory2012
rory2012

War is inevitable between US and China.US wants to test China's bottom line and defense capacity. China also can't bear with US's arrogant and  wants to have  a battle in order to gain a short period of peace.

ning05
ning05

1st, air head — “According to state media, the garrison would

be equipped the same as a standard army division”, it actually states

the military garrison will be division level rather than division size —

adding 10000 army soldiers to 2 million sqr miles of water is really

useless.

I believe China, in next 5 to 10 years, San Sha will become a tourist

and immigration hot spot like Cos Mel and Hilo and at the same time,

provide China air and sea dominance over the entire South China Sea by –

a. develop at least 5 more airstrips on SanSha island, in addition to the current one;

b. and station at least one 4g stealth fighter division (J-20 or J-60

currently in development )combined with another 3g fighter-bomber

division of J-10s

c. plus a brigade of ASBM that can sink any aircraft carrier within 1000 miles’ radius of South China Sea

so that San Shan will turn into a 5 square miles’ size “aircraft

carrier”, which is the largest the world has ever seen and will never

sink!

so 10 years from now, how can anyone on the earth argue that a Sea

called “South China Sea”, full of Chinese immigrants and tourists,

cruise ships, fishing ships and above all, navy shps, Chinese J-20 and

J-60 stealth fighters and Anti-ship-ballistic-missiles, not Chinese?

 

ning05
ning05

1st, air head — “According to state media, the garrison would

be equipped the same as a standard army division”, it actually states

the military garrison will be division level rather than division size —

adding 10000 army soldiers to 2 million sqr miles of water is really

useless.

I believe China, in next 5 to 10 years, San Sha will become a tourist

and immigration hot spot like Cos Mel and Hilo and at the same time,

provide China air and sea dominance over the entire South China Sea by –

a. develop at least 5 more airstrips on SanSha island, in addition to the current one;

b. and station at least one 4g stealth fighter division (J-20 or J-60

currently in development )combined with another 3g fighter-bomber

division of J-10s

c. plus a brigade of ASBM that can sink any aircraft carrier within 1000 miles’ radius of South China Sea

so that San Shan will turn into a 5 square miles’ size “aircraft

carrier”, which is the largest the world has ever seen and will never

sink!

so 10 years from now, how can anyone on the earth argue that a Sea

called “South China Sea”, full of Chinese immigrants and tourists,

cruise ships, fishing ships and above all, navy shps, Chinese J-20 and

J-60 stealth fighters and Anti-ship-ballistic-missiles, not Chinese?

 

许俊锋
许俊锋

oh  my god!it is very dangerous

Anixa
Anixa

Your caption to the article is grossly misleading. The correct caption should be "Threat of conflicts in South China Seas led to (forced) the creation of Sansha City". The threat to conflicts in the South China Seas (SCS) has been orchestrated by the  US.

 First by their unwise deployment of forces from Afghanistan and secondly by increasingly provoking China's neighbors (hitherto peaceful and quiet) to launch more daring (eg. by Philippines) territorial claims over disputed islands. 

Anh Tran
Anh Tran

To barbaric china government, there s only blood for

blood. Vietnam had done it for 4000 years and will continue to fight china to

the last drop of blood. If the war comes, not the military might but the will

will determine the victor. Vietnamese people have more than the unshakable will

to protect their land. The war with Vietnam will break China in pieces. 

dustshadow
dustshadow

This article seems tell you that China just begin to robbing other countries' islands.

However the truth is far from that.In fact when China claimed this islands,these countries even not be independent.

Anh Tran
Anh Tran

To barbaric china government, there s only blood for

blood. Vietnam had done it for 4000 years and will continue to fight china to

the last drop of blood. If the war comes, not the military might but the will

will determine the victor. Vietnamese people have more than the unshakable will

to protect their land. The war with Vietnam will break Chinese in pieces. 

Anixa
Anixa

Your caption to the above article is grossly misleading. It should read "Threat of conflict in South China Sea lead to (forces) the creation of Sansha City. This new threat to the hitherto peaceful South China Seas (SCS) was directly caused by the uncanny deployment of US forces in Afghanistan to the SCS and the increasing provocation by neighboring countries against peaceful China over territorial claims (orchestrated by the US).  

RWBbullet
RWBbullet

It is called by the USA the South CHINA Sea. What is the problem here!

Is USA still America?

Lasertop
Lasertop

Look at a map of the territorial claims made by China, they literially claim every square inch of the Sea.  The other nations need to get together and form a miltary pack, or they may soon find themselfs to be provences of China.

Xuan Thu
Xuan Thu

china sunk Philippines and Vietnam boats in Philippines and Vietnam water; killed 5 Philippines' fishermen and dozens of Vietnam's fishermen.  You only read the selected news!?

Xuan Thu
Xuan Thu

If you read china history, china territory was made by invading small and week countries. In 1960s, china stated that South East Asia is a part of China which included Vietnam, Lao, Cambodia, Philippine, Malyasia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, et.  China also states that Mongolia, Kashmir, Tibet, etc, are parts of china.

China now controls South East Asia sea. USA, Russia, and India ships in South East Asia should pay fee and tax to china.  China dreams has not stopped because they believe they are the first discover America.

James
James

For those of you who are super pro-America without a doubt type of people, here are some things you ought to consider, and  should digest, just to make sure that you are still that super pro-America. First off, the first govts, killed off the Native Americans, they enslaved blacks from 1650s to 1870s and there is still forms of slavery up from then all the way till now. In 1885, Americans enacted the Chinese exclusion act. In the early 1900s, the Americans made laws called the Alien Land Laws of 1913 to prevent Japanese Americans from owning land and thus marginalizing them. In World War 2, Japanese Americans were interned, because they were deemed enemies, whereas Italian and German Americans were not, even though America was at war with them. In the 1940s through 1960s, American govt was pretty open about forced sterilization on black people, maybe even other minorities. In the 1950s onward and much stronger now, it's the Middle Eastern people discriminated. In the 2000s all the way to 2012, you hear election campaigns on which candidate would expel Mexicans faster. The anti-Mexican rhetoric sounds eerily similar to the Chinese exclusion acts of the 1800s. 

Since World War 2, America has killed many non-whites outside of its borders, and this is even after I mentioned non-whites from within America's borders. Examples include, Guetamala, Honduras, Columbia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa, Laos, Japan etc etc etc.

Now, how did I learn all this? From the few things left that is good in America: public universities. 

So there are some good things left in America, though very few. Now tell me, are you guys still super pro-America?  

Even if China has racist sentiments, is racist sentiments as bad as killing off completely an aboriginal group? If you really know what's going on there, then you know that there are Han Chinese moving into the Xinjiang region and Xinjiang people moving in with the locals towards the mainland. That's a far cry from outright exclusion like America did to the Chinese in the 1800s and now, Mexicans in the 2000s. 

Even if China "encroaches" the spratly islands, do you see China commit indiscriminate killings to the same degree that America has? Do you honestly see China going into into Indonesia and indiscriminately killing the locals? Do you see China going to Iraq and bombing civilians? Do you see China going into Afghanistan and burning the Koran? 

I'm not asking you to take sides. But for those who are super pro-America, do you still maintain your stance? If you do fine. But at least know that this is what happened in your history, something that is never going to be presented on History Channel. 

IQMinusOne
IQMinusOne

"here's an ancient map"

That map was designed by the Nationalist government of Republic of China in about 1934. Things got complicated because the communists created another China which has been militarily weak to directly challenge the USA. But China is now testing how much the USA is willing to yield.

It's a battle between two giants, neither of whom are willing to fight an open war. That's why you get to see these ridiculous games.

China is not a military threat to the USA at all. It is an ideological threat, but I suspect you would rather view that as a plus.

iamhe
iamhe

No... IT was the Corporations hijacking the legislature and elections and twisting the patriotic notion of "Freedom and Liberty" into a "reason" why corporations should not be highly monitored, restricted and regulated... it became the basis for American Style Capitalism... which is different from other forms of capitalism.. American Style Capitalism is with out a social conscience and it makes war on non profit businesses like the US Post Office, Public Broadcasting, and public health care.

American Style Capitalism at its worse is sick, anti-social, and destructive to the people who live in its grip.

China's Capitalism is just about a complete opposite. And it does not make war for profit, nor make war on social non profit systems.

That is the difference.

It is to bad Americans have been so very badly misled by people without conscience and with ulterior motives and unconscionable hidden agendas.

IQMinusOne
IQMinusOne

"It is like a credit card company forcing people to buy on credit and then holding them to ransom."

Did you take that line out of an article about the Wall Street?

Leilageq
Leilageq

Marcus said I can't believe that a student can profit $8709 in 1 month on the internet. did you see this(Click on menu Home)

Anixa
Anixa

This is akin to biting the hand that rock the cradle or should we say little monkey trying to teach the great lion a lesson?

Paul Pan
Paul Pan

War with Vietnam will also result in Vietnam being wiped off the map. Only one of the two countries is nuclear-armed, remember?

James
James

You also forgot that US bombed the hell and killed way more people in Vietnam than any other country, including China. Agent orange, which is a pesticide that kills humans still has its effects today. So, who is the bad guy?

Howard2009
Howard2009

Stop your shameless lies and smearing.  No one will believe you here. Find a life...

1rityls
1rityls

Quote: "Even if China "encroaches" the spratly islands, do you see China commit indiscriminate killings to the same degree that America has? Do you honestly see China going into into Indonesia and indiscriminately killing the locals? Do you see China going to Iraq and bombing civilians? Do you see China going into Afghanistan and burning the Koran? "

I really dislike going to past events that are more or less unrelated to the current crisis, BUT... if you hear my dad talk about why China beat Vietnam when even the US didn't, it basically boils down to overwhelming numbers and merciless use of force. So either China is willing to be at least as "aggressive" as the USA in warfare tactics, OR my dad has succumbed to Chinese propoganda -- oh sorry, I meant fair and open press, unlike in the US where the government prevents anything from making its way into the domestic press. Wait...

Xuan Thu
Xuan Thu

80% chineses want to steal islands and resources from ASEAN. china is a country of thieves. 

Jerico Cruz
Jerico Cruz

Do you really think China will get to use those nukes? 

Xuan Thu
Xuan Thu

This article is about China, not about the US.  Nazi china is stealing Islands, resources, land from Asia countries.  Evil china must be stopped. 

Xuan Thu
Xuan Thu

1. You know nothing about china.  Have you read china history?   In 1966 china had a doctrine stated that ASEAN is a part china. 

2. In 2003, china officer stated that Genghish Khan is a chinese.  etc. 

3.  2010 china stated South East Asia sea belongs to china. India ships were escorted by china ships in the international water. etc.  

Read all the news, read the books before comments.  You are an innocent. 

James
James

Well, if you really look at Chinese history, some of that history written by white professors that live here in American universities, Chinese has never killed as barbarically as America has based solely on a different race. Sure, they killed people when there was a power grab, but so has every country. But as far as killing other people based on their races, America has won honors in that. Remember, Guetamala, Honduras, Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos, Japan, Iraq, Afghanistan. I can name more, but there's so many that it's difficult to keep track. 

Now, based on Chinese history, written by white professors here in the United States, China did not kill this many people based on what race they are. Even though there is a possibility that China could kill Indonesians because they're darker people, I mean seriously, are you going to make that prediction? When America has such a poor track record on killing people based on their race, and China is not known to do that. Still possible, but I predict that it is less likely.

James
James

True I may have sounded like China gets a complete free pass, and that is far from the case. The truth is that China does not have as dirty of a history of expanding and killing people based on race. Though it may be true that China could do that now while expanding, it looks highly unlikely. I'm Chinese American and I have family in China too. I have friends from China coming here to study and they're doing just fine going back to China. US propaganda paints China in a certain light and Chinese propaganda paints the US in a certain light. We don't know what has actually happened for certain because both parties lie. I used my 250 words to reiterate that the US has had a troubling history of killing non-white people. Can you say for certain that China has a history of killing non-Han people? It's actually quite difficult to find. I'm pretty sure in China's 5000 year history, they killed people that were non-Han, but I doubt they were targeted specifically for being non-Han. The US, well, you already read my previous post.

1rityls
1rityls

My family is Chinese and my Dad been living in China for over a decade. This has nothing to do with American professors, this is him telling me about the Sino-Vietnamese War as he has learned it while living in China. And the point of that story is that, if we do want to look at history, then historically, China has been willing to kill civilians in warfare. I don't care whether its over race or not because it's irrelevant to the current conflict over the islands. Either way, I don't buy this assumption that they will be a responsible regional power, and that we need to give them the benefit of the doubt, give these islands over to them because of a power display they made, and hope they won't pull another Tiananmen -- or that they won't make additional territorial claims afterward. Look, I have absolutely no qualms talking about the mistakes that America has made. I consider myself moderate in most topics and frequently like to point out the mistakes of both sides because people like to make blanket statements instead of being more nuanced. But seriously, read your post (and the older ones). How did we get here? You spent like 250 words writing about all the evils of America's past. Then basically China gets a unconditional pass -- even though China is the most important player in this story about the disputed islands!