China's Ministry of Civil Affairs announced last week the establishment of Sansha city, which will administer Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha islands. The decision is more than just a response to Vietnam's maritime law, approved Thursday.
The idea of establishing Sansha city emerged as early as 2007, but was shelved due to protests by Vietnam. Now China has taken a concrete step, signaling its determination to administer the Nansha Islands and related sea areas. The new level of management carries more weight than the law of Vietnam.
China's actions concerning South China Sea disputes have been forced by Vietnam and the Philippines. Their provocations will meet with strong reactions from China, and push China to systematically strengthen related management.
Technological breakthroughs in offshore drilling platforms and the new success of the Jiaolong submersible have demonstrated China's strength as a maritime power.
It is able to increase its defense, technology, business and personnel presence in the South China Sea area. If the South China Sea disputes turn into a power contest, there will be little doubt about the result.
China's options for resolving maritime disputes in the past have been restricted by worries such as being isolated and sanctioned by the West. These worries have diminished after several rounds of recent conflicts with Vietnam and the Philippines, and countering Washington's intervention in the South China Sea disputes. The public and government both have a firm determination and confidence to protect the country's sovereignty there.
The establishment of Sansha city should be followed by more initiatives. How Vietnam and the Philippines react to them is not our top concern. The two countries have escalated the South China Sea disputes, and the situation in the area cannot return to how it was. China has to face a future of uncertainty.
Chinese people used to think Hainan Island was the forefront of the South China Sea. The establishment of Sansha city has made China's presence in the South China Sea more tangible.
The new city should be granted more diplomatic freedom. Local governments of South Korea and Japan are very active in diplomacy and have become independent diplomatic channels. China can learn from these examples.
What's the worst case scenario for the South China Sea disputes? It is not necessarily war. An even worse situation is countries like Vietnam and the Philippines, backed by the US, becoming more provocative against China. There might be a group activity of small nations extorting big ones, greatly restricting China's activities in its surrounding sea area. Sansha city should be a new development of China's maneuvers in the South China Sea.