Sansha move consolidates China's claim

Source:Global Times Published: 2012-6-25 20:55:02

Illustration: Sun Ying

Illustration: Sun Ying


The Chinese government raised the administrative status of the Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha islands in the South China Sea after approving the establishment of the prefectural-level city of Sansha to administer the three island groups and their surrounding waters.

The county-level Administration Office for the Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha Islands was also abolished at the same time. The Sansha government seat will be stationed on Yongxing Island, part of the Xisha Islands.

The raise of the administrative status of the three island groups was interpreted by some as a tactical Chinese response to the recent tensions in the South China Sea amid China's rows with the Philippines and Vietnam.

But it should be stressed that the administration office for the three island groups was established in 1959, and this time it was a change of its administrative status. The move was not aimed at responding to the recent situation in the South China Sea, but a basic plan China mapped early on to consolidate its claims over this region.

According to Chinese law, administrative offices are merely interim agencies and do not have the necessary basic functions for territorial administration that requires the work of various government departments. The establishment of Sansha city meets the demands of Chinese law and the development of the South China Sea, as a prefectural-level government has more jurisdictional power than a county-level one.

Of course, raising the administrative status of the three island groups also has the additional effect of averting attempts by other nations to encroach upon Chinese territories in the South China Sea, especially considering that the Vietnam National Assembly last week passed the "Vietnamese Law of the Sea," which describes China's Xisha and Nansha islands as being within Vietnam's sovereignty and jurisdiction.

There are concerns that raising the administrative status of the Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha islands might further escalate tensions in the region. But I believe such concerns are totally baseless. The three island groups have been Chinese territories since ancient times, and it is absolutely legal and reasonable for China to administrate its territories in accordance with its own demands.

Furthermore, China did not expand its claims over the South China Sea with the raise of the administrative status of Sansha. Its jurisdiction and administration area over the Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha islands are the same that China has been claiming for decades.

Establishing the prefectural-level city of Sansha was only the first step in solidifying China's sovereignty in the South China Sea. And China needs to do more follow-up work to promote the process.

There are suggestions that the local government should develop tourism and encourage people to migrate into the islands, but it would be better to develop the South China Sea as ordinary territories in accordance with national interests, local interests and the laws of economics.

Personally, I think the role that migration and tourism can play in consolidating sovereignty might be limited. Natural and weather conditions in the South China Sea mean that islands there are unable to sustain huge amounts of migrants. Any economic activities have to take into consideration the facts on the ground.

A good choice to consolidate sovereignty in accordance with local conditions is to organize fishermen to establish some fishing companies, which can help protect Chinese fishing resources. This can also bring benefits to local fishermen.

Another possible choice is to establish several economic development zones in the area. We can invite foreign companies to cooperate with their Chinese counterparts to invest and develop resources in the South China Sea. This can demonstrate China's sincerity in putting aside disputes and seeking common development.

The South China Sea is known as one of the world's busiest shipping lanes. We might also considering establishing supply bases there to offer supply and maintenance to passing merchant ships and fishing vessels.

The article was compiled by Global Times reporter Wang Zhaokun based on an interview with Zhuang Guotu, director of the Center for Southeast Asia Studies at Xiamen University.


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