Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

China Plans to Send Force to Disputed Island Group ; New Legislature There Also Adds to Beijing's Bid to Assert Sovereignty

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

China Plans to Send Force to Disputed Island Group ; New Legislature There Also Adds to Beijing's Bid to Assert Sovereignty

Article excerpt

The garrison for the new city of Sansha was approved as 1,100 Chinese residents elected a Legislature to oversee the area. Sansha is on the Paracel Islands, which are also claimed by Vietnam.

The Central Military Commission, China's most powerful military body, has approved the deployment of a garrison of soldiers from the People's Liberation Army to guard islands claimed by Beijing in the South China Sea, Xinhua has reported.

The announcement, made on Sunday, came as the Chinese authorities told the state news media that 45 legislators elected over the weekend by the 1,100 people who live on the island groups of Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha met for the first time on Monday.

The legislators would govern not only the island groups, many of them consisting of rocks and atolls, but also two million square kilometers, or 772,000 square miles, of the South China Sea over which Beijing claims jurisdiction, according to the state news media.

The two moves appeared designed to reinforce Beijing's claims over the South China Sea a week after a meeting of foreign ministers of the Association of South East Asian Nations in Phnom Penh. At that meeting, according to diplomats who attended, China used its influence to block even a rudimentary communique on the South China Sea among the 10 nations.

The establishment of a legislature for the sparsely populated islands and the dispatch of soldiers will antagonize Vietnam, which claims the same islands. Vietnam and China fought in the 1970s over the three island groups, also known as the Spratlys, the Paracels and the Macclesfield Bank.

Last month, Vietnam passed a law that claimed sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly Islands. In response, China said the islands were the "indisputable" territory of China.

The Philippines and China have been involved in a dispute for months over the Scarborough Shoal, an area off the coast of the Philippines claimed by both countries.

In the case of the Nansha, Xisha and Zhongsha islands, the Chinese State Council approved the establishment of a prefectural level administration known as Sansha City to replace a lower-county level administration last month. …

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