China has appointed military officers at a newly established garrison in the South China Sea, state media reported yesterday — the country’s latest step to bolster claims to disputed islands in the area.
The Chinese Defense Ministry announced the appointments on Thursday, the China Daily said, two days after China said it had established the city of Sansha, along with the military garrison, on Woody Island (Yongxing Island, 永興島) in the disputed Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島), which are also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam.
Appointed were Senior Colonel Cai Xihong (蔡喜宏) as the garrison’s commander and Senior Colonel Liao Chaoyi (廖朝毅) as its political commissar, the China Daily reported, quoting ministry spokesman Yang Yujun (楊宇軍).
Yang said that the garrison has responsibility for defense mobilization, guarding the city and disaster relief, among other functions.
However, he added that a separate maritime garrison under the Chinese navy was responsible for maritime defense and military combat, appearing to suggest that the Sansha garrison would not have such responsibilities.
Vietnam and the Philippines condemned China’s decision earlier this week to set up the garrison, with Hanoi on Tuesday filing a formal protest and Manila lodging a complaint with China’s ambassador.
The US is also criticizing plans for the garrison and says all claimants should resolve their disputes through diplomacy.
Prominent US senators have declared the Chinese move as provocative and a possible violation of international law.
US Department of State spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on Thursday the US was pressing all parties to work on a code of conduct for the South China Sea.
Asked about China’s plans, Nuland said the US was concerned by “unilateral moves.”
“There’s a concern here that they are beginning to take actions when we want to see all of these issues resolved at the table,” she said.
Yang said how China deploys its military within its own borders is irrelevant to other countries.