Beijing will establish a military garrison on a group of disputed islands in the South China Sea, the Chinese Ministry of Defense said yesterday, a move likely to provoke further tensions with its neighbors.
The troops will operate from Sansha in the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島), one of two archipelagos in the South China Sea that are claimed by both China and Vietnam.
The garrison, approved by the Central Military Commission, “will be responsible for the Sansha area national defense mobilization and reserve forces activities,” the Chinese Ministry of Defense said on its Web site.
The ministry did not say when the garrison would be established, but the move to station troops on the Paracels is likely to provoke Hanoi’s ire.
Beijing’s move last month to designate Sansha as its administrative center for the Paracels and the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島) prompted a rare demonstration on Sunday in Hanoi. China and South Vietnam once administered different parts of the Paracels, but after a brief conflict in 1974, Beijing took control of the entire group of islands. Vietnam holds several of the larger Spratly Islands.
China says it owns much of the South China Sea, while Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia each claim portions.
Disputes have flared in recent weeks, with Vietnam and the Philippines criticizing what they call Chinese encroachment.
Meanwhile, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III refused to budge yesterday on the Philippines’ territorial dispute with China, asking Beijing to respect Manila’s rights in the South China Sea and announcing plans to upgrade military capabilities.
Addressing a joint session of the Philippine Congress for the third time since his election in 2010, Aquino asked the Philippine people to unite behind his government’s efforts to resolve the dispute peacefully.
“If someone enters your yard and told you he owns it, will you allow that?” Aquino asked. “It’s not right to give away what is rightfully ours. And so I ask for solidarity from our people regarding this issue. Let us speak with one voice.”
Aquino said the Philippines had shown restraint by pulling out its navy ship and replacing it with a civilian vessel when Chinese fishing boats entered the Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan Island, 黃岩島) area, which lies in the South China Sea about 124 nautical miles (230km) west of the main Philippine island of Luzon.
The Philippines says it has sole jurisdiction over the uninhabited shoal because it lies within the country’s 322km exclusive economic zone.
“It’s not too much to ask the other side to respect our rights just as we respected their rights,” Aquino said, adding that as the nation’s leader: “I must uphold the law of the land.”
Philippine officials say they are worried by China’s “creeping imposition” of its claims in disputed areas in the South China Sea, a violation of an informal code of conduct adopted in Cambodia in 2002.