— 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 now calls Sansha.
The official Xinhua news agency said the Sansha garrison would be responsible for “national defense mobilisation … 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, who are mostly fishermen, its administrative responsibility covers China’s vast claims in the South China Sea and its myriad mostly uninhabited atolls and reefs.
The South China Sea has become Asia’s biggest potential military flashpoint. — (Reuters)