Paracels, Spratlys, and Zhongsha Islands Authority

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Prefecture-level city
Capitol of Sansha in Yongxing Dao (Woody Island) Neighborhood Committee
Capitol of Sansha in Yongxing Dao (Woody Island) Neighborhood Committee
Location Sansha City jurisdiction (in pink) in Hainan
Location Sansha City jurisdiction (in pink) in Hainan
Sansha is located in South China Sea
Location of the prefectural seat
Coordinates: 16°50′03″N 112°20′15″E / 16.83417°N 112.33750°E / 16.83417; 112.33750
Country People's Republic of China
Province Hainan
Prefecture-level city 24 July 2012 (UTC+8)
City seat Yongxing Island
 • CPC Municipal Party Secretary Fu Zhuang (符戆)
 • Mayor Xiao Jie (肖杰)
 • Land 13 km2 (5 sq mi)
 • Water ~2,000,000 km2 (~772,000 sq mi)
Population (2010 Census)
 • Total 444
 • Estimate (20121) 1,000
 • Urban density 34.15/km2 (88.4/sq mi)
 • Chinese 100%
 • Chinese 100%
Time zone China Standard Time (UTC+8)
Postal code 573100
Territorial Dispute: There are on-going territorial disputes in the entire area covered by the city, whose administrative authority is not internationally recognized.
Hanyu Pinyin Sānshā
Literal meaning three sands (referring to the Chinese names for the three island groups)

Sansha is a prefecture of Hainan province, People's Republic of China, administering (actually or nominally) several island groups and undersea atolls in the South China Sea and comprising the Spratly Islands, the Paracel Islands and the Macclesfield Bank.2 The entire territory is disputed, and China's de facto control over the area varies. Sansha has equal administrative status to a prefecture-level city, and was created on 24 July 2012.3

The establishment of Sansha is simply an upgrade of the administrative status of these island groups from the previous county-level Administrative Office,2 and construction of a city is not actually underway. A garrison may be established, however.45 The United States Department of State called the change in the administrative status of the territory "unilateral", and the move has received criticism from two nations engaged in the South China Sea dispute, the Philippines and Vietnam.

The centre of government for Sansha is located on Yongxing (Woody) Island in the Paracels,6 where some 600 Chinese civilians reside.5 Woody Island is the largest of the islands in the Paracel and Spratly groups with an area of about 5 square miles (13 km2).7 Nationally, Sansha is the smallest prefecture-level city by both population and land area but the largest by water area1 and the southernmost.

Administrative divisions

Sansha is governed by a municipal congress of 60 delegates directly elected, with a standing committee of 15 members.8 It is further subdivided into 3 islands-districts at county-level, 3 towns at the township level (4th-level subdivision) and further into village-levels, based on the island groups:

Division code9 Division name
(Official name)
Chinese & Pinyin International Name Township-level divisions Village-level divisions Note(s)
460321 Xisha District
(Xisha Islands)
Xīshā Qúndǎo
Paracel Islands Yongxing Dao
Neighborhood Committee
(Woody Island)
  • Prefectural-controlled
  1. Yongxing Community
  2. Yongxingcun
  3. Xuande Community
  4. Beidao Community
  5. Zhaoshu Community
  6. Qilianyucun
  • Yongle Qundao-controlled
  1. Yongle Qundao Community
  2. Jinqing Community
  3. Yinyu Community
  4. Lingyang Community
  5. Yagong Community
Effectively maintains control over all the features of the Paracels.citation needed
460322 Nansha District
(Nansha Islands)
Nánshā Qúndǎo
Spratly Islands Yongshu Jiao
Neighborhood Committee
(Fiery Cross Reef)
  • Prefectural-controlled
  1. Yongshu Community
  2. Meiji Community
Has actual control over 9 features and James Shoal.citation needed
460323 Zhongsha District
(Zhongsha Islands, Reefs, and Waters)
Zhōngshā Qúndǎo
De Dǎojiāo Jíqí Hǎiyù
Macclesfield Bank Zhongsha Dao and Jiao
Neighborhood Committee
none Does not have actual control of this area.citation needed


New Baselines and EEZs of China
Xiao Jie, First and current mayor of Sansha

Following being given approval by the State Council on 24 March 1953,10 the "Guangdong Province Paracels, Spratlys, and Zhongsha Islands Authority" was established as a county-level administrative division on Yongxing (Woody) Island, the largest in area among the disputed South China Sea Islands. During the Cultural Revolution, when Revolutionary Committees were being set up across the country, it was upgraded to the "Guangdong Province Paracels, Spratlys, and Zhongsha Islands Revolutionary Committee" on 4 March 1959.10 On 22 October 1981 the original Authority was restored. Administration was transferred to Hainan on National Day, 1984, when the Hainan Administrative Region was established, followed by the establishment of Hainan Province on 13 April 1988. On 19 September 1988,10 it was officially changed to the "Hainan Province Paracels, Spratlys, and Zhongsha Islands Authority." On 25 December 2006, Woody Island census-town's first-ever Residents' and Fishers' Congress was held. Three representatives at the township and village levels were selected to represent the census-town's Neighborhood Committee of the North and South Villages. The Neighborhood Committee began work on Woody Island the following day with an office at the Border Guards of the Paracels' Police Station. These were the first ever actual subdivisions created within the county-level authority.10

The prospect of the establishment of a "city" on Woody Island was first mooted on 19 November 2007 in a report by Mingpao, a Hong Kong-based newspaper, through a telephone interview with a Mr. Zhang of the Propaganda Department of Wenchang, Hainan. This report claimed that a county-level city was to be established by the PRC State Council in November 2007 to administer three disputed archipelagos in the South China Sea:11 the Paracel Islands, Macclesfield Bank (Zhongsha Islands) and the Spratly Islands. This was to replace the county-level "Paracels, Spratlys, and Zhongsha Islands Authority." The city of Wenchang would provide supplies and logistics to the to-be-established city. The article also stated that Wenchang's municipal party secretary Xie Wenzhang had announced a similar decision at the municipal congress on 26 October. It was referred to simply as "City X". The article finally concluded with the possibility of the opening of Woody Island to tourism as a next step. However, until June 2012, there had been no official announcement of a decision by the Chinese government.

On 23 July 2012 the Chinese Central Military Commission announced it had authorized the People's Liberation Army Guangzhou Military Command to form a "garrison command" in Sansha City. The troops would be responsible for managing the city's national defence mobilisation, military reserve, and carrying out military operations.12

On 24 July 2012, China officially established the city of Sansha in Yongxing Island.3

Controversy and protests

Because Sansha's jurisdiction comprises island groups that several nations besides China claim as their own, the city is considered by some as controversial.

In 2007, the Foreign Ministry of Vietnam protested against the city's proposed establishment, which had been recently approved by China's State Council, as Vietnam claims two of the three island groups that comprise Sansha.13 This was later followed by student demonstrations at the Chinese embassy in Hanoi and a consulate in Ho Chi Minh City.14

Days prior to the official establishment of the city in late July 2012,3 Vietnam again stated its opposition and was joined in its protests by the Philippines.15 The United States Department of State also weighed in on the issue stating, "we remain concerned should there be any unilateral moves of this kind that would seem to prejudge an issue."16 The chair of the US Senate Foreign Relations East Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee, Jim Webb, also made a statement regarding Sansha and questioned whether the city's creation was a violation of international law.17 While Senator Webb stated that the establishment of Sansha was China "creating a governmental system out of nothing",17 the Chinese government has included the island groups that comprise Sansha in its administrative structure since 1959.18 Before these island groups were under the nominal administration of Sansha, they were nominally administered by an administrative office under the provincial government of Hainan.6

Various factions of the Muslim Moro people are waging a war for independence against the Philippines. The website of the separatist Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) of Nur Misuari declared its support for China against the Philippines in the South China Sea dispute, calling both China and the Moro people as victims of Philippine colonialism, and noting China's history of friendly relations with the Moros.19 The MNLF website also denounced America's assistance to the Philippines in their colonization of the Moro people in addition to denouncing the Philippines claims to the islands disputed with China, and denouncing America for siding with the Philippines in the dispute, noting that in 1988 China "punished" Vietnam for attempting to set up a military presence on the disputed islands, and noting that the Moros and China maintained peaceful relations, while on the other hand the Moros had to resist other colonial powers, having to fight the Spanish, fight the Americans, and fight the Japanese, in addition to fighting the Philippines.20

Champa historically had a large presence in the South China Sea. The Vietnamese broke Champa's power in an invasion of Champa in 1471, and then finally conquered the last remnants of the Cham people in an invasion in 1832. A Cham named Katip Suma who received Islamic education in Kelantan declared a Jihad against the Vietnamese, and fighting continued until the Vietnamese crushed the remnants of the resistance in 1835. The Cham organization Front de Libération du Champa was part of the United Front for the Liberation of Oppressed Races, which waged war against the Vietnamese for independence in the Vietnam War along with the Montagnard and Khmer Krom minorities. The last remaining FULRO insurgents surrendered to the United Nations in 1992. Vietnam has settled over a million ethnic Vietnamese on Montagnard lands in the Central Highlands. The Montagnard staged a massive protest against the Vietnamese in 2001, which led to the Vietnamese to forcefully crush the uprising and seal the entire area off to foreigners.

The Vietnamese government fears that evidence of Champa's influence over the disputed area in the South China Sea would bring attention to human rights violations and killings of ethnic minorities in Vietnam such as in the 2001 and 2004 uprisings, and lead to the issue of Cham autonomy being brought into the dispute, since the Vietnamese conquered the Hindu and Muslim Cham people in a war in 1832, and the Vietnamese continue to destroy evidence of Cham culture and artifacts left behind, plundering or building on top of Cham temples, building farms over them, banning Cham religious practices, and omitting references to the destroyed Cham capital of Song Luy in the 1832 invasion in history books and tourist guides. The situation of Cham compared to ethnic Vietnamese is substandard, lacking water and electricity and living in houses made out of mud.21

The Cham in Vietnam are only recognized as a minority, and not as an indigenous people by the Vietnamese government despite being indigenous to the region. Both Hindu and Muslim Chams have experienced religious and ethnic persecution and restrictions on their faith under the current Vietnamese government, with the Vietnamese state confisticating Cham property and forbidding Cham from observing their religious beliefs. Hindu temples were turned into tourist sites against the wishes of the Cham Hindus. In 2010 and 2013 several incidents occurred in Thành Tín and Phươc Nhơn villages where Cham were murdered by Vietnamese. In 2012, Vietnamese police in Chau Giang village stormed into a Cham Mosque, stole the electric generator, and also raped Cham girls.22 Cham Muslims in the Mekong Delta have also been economically marginalized and pushed into poverty by Vietnamese policies, with ethnic Vietnamese Kinh settling on majority Cham land with state support, and religious practices of minorities have been targeted for elimination by the Vietnamese government.23


Yongxing (Woody) Island, the seat of Sansha city, includes a small airport, sea port, medical clinic, supermarket, observatory, and post office.3 A hospital is planned.3 Woody island is supplied by a freighter which hauls supplies, including drinking water, from Hainan.24 The small airstrip, Yongxing Island Airport, was completed in July 1990.25 The runway is either 2,60025 or 2,700 metres.26 Some say it is capable of handling People's Liberation Army Naval Air Force aircraft such as the Shenyang J-11BH/S, Chengdu J-10AH/S, and Sukhoi Su-30MKK.27

In June 2014, a school construction worth 5.8 million US dollar was started and is expected to be completed in one year and a half .28


There is a road linking Yongxing Island and Shidao Island of Paracels. Before the 1970s, the only means of transportation to and from the islands were by hiring fishers' boats, and even then only Woody Island was accessible, while the rest of the Paracels, the Zhongsha Islands and the Spratlys were only accessible to military personnel. The situation was improved in 1977 with the construction of a freighter given approval by then Premier Zhou Enlai. Having a tonnage of 2160 tonnes and a maximum load of 200 personnel, the "Qiongsha 1" (literally "Hainan-South China Sea Islands 1") freighter carried supplies and personnel between Woody Island and Hainan Island. In 1997, "Qiongsha 1" was destroyed in a typhoon while en route to Zhanjiang, Guangdong Province for routine maintenance and upkeep. A smaller "Qiongsha 2" freighter at 1410 tonnes and a load of 100 personnel was commissioned that same year. It operated for 10 years, and was decommissioned in January 2007.

As of 2008, the "lifeboat" of the islands is the "Qiongsha 3" freighter (Tonnage: 2500 tonnes; Load: 200 personnel; Payload: 750 tonnes in cargo; Length: 84 metres; Width: 13.8 metres). This is essentially the only means of transportation to and from the islands for non-military personnel (mostly fishers and researchers). Its maiden voyage was on 10 February 2007, and it has been sailing regularly between Wenchang's Qinglan Port on southeastern Hainan Island and Woody Island in the Paracels roughly every 20 days. A normal trip takes 13 to 15 hours, navigating between dangerous reefs and banks, through a distance of 186 nautical miles (344 km).

Although all of the Paracels have been under China's control since the late 1970s, but its strategic military position at the frontiers and its status as a disputed island with several claimants' military personnel nearby have made it a low priority for the development of tourism. Nevertheless, since 2005, the provincial government of Hainan has instituted a small organising panel to investigate and discuss the possibility of opening up tourism to Woody Island and the rest of the Paracels.

See also


  1. ^ a b Alexa Olesen (Associated Press) (2012-07-24). "China dubs tiny island new city in sea claim bid". Retrieved 24 July 2012. dead link
  2. ^ a b "China sets up Sansha City to administer South China Sea islands". Sina. 21 June 2012. Retrieved 21 June 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c d e "China establishes Sansha City". Xinhua. 24 July 2012. Retrieved 24 July 2012. 
  4. ^ "Sansha garrison". China Daily. 2012-07-27. Retrieved 15 August 2012. 
  5. ^ a b Lague, David (25 Jul 2012). "China's hawks gaining sway in South China sea dispute". Reuters (Hong Kong). Retrieved 7 August 2012. 
  6. ^ a b "STIRRING UP THE SOUTH CHINA SEA (II): REGIONAL RESPONSES Asia Report N°229". International Crisis Group. July 2012. p. 5. Retrieved 7 August 2012. 
  7. ^ USA Today, Tiny island in South China Sea is stirring up tensions, Calum MacLeod, 12 July 2012
  8. ^ "Sansha government". Xinhua Net. Retrieved 8 August 2012. 
  9. ^ 2013国家统计局统计用区划代码
  10. ^ a b c d "China's Jurisdiction over the South China Sea". Beijing Review. 
  11. ^ "Vietnam, China: The Dispute over Significant Waterways". Free Intelligence Reports (Stratfor). 4 December 2007. Retrieved 8 December 2007. dead link
  12. ^ BBC News, China Approves Military Garrison, 23 July 2012
  13. ^ "Vietnam objects to China’s establishment of San Sha city on the Hainan Island: MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS' SPOKESMAN – MR. LE DZUNG ANSWERS QUESTION ON 3rd DECEMBER 2007". Vietnam Ministry of Foreign Affairs. undated. Retrieved 7 August 2012. 
  14. ^ Symon, Andrew (20 December 2007). "China, Vietnam churn diplomatic waters". Asia Times Online. Retrieved 7 August 2012. 
  15. ^
  16. ^ "Victoria Nuland, Spokesperson: Daily Press Briefing, Washington, DC, July 24, 2012". United States Department of State. 24 July 2012. Retrieved 27 July 2012. 
  17. ^ a b "Senator Webb: China’s military and governmental expansion into South China Sea might be a "Violation of International Law"". United States Senate. 25 July 2012. Archived from the original on 15 December 2012. Retrieved 27 July 2012. 
  18. ^ "China opposes US statement on S. China Sea". 08-05-2012. CCTV. Retrieved 7 August 2012. 
  19. ^ RRayhanR (8 October 2012). "HISTORICAL AND "HUMAN WRONG" OF PHILIPPINE COLONIALISM: HOW NOT TO RESPECT HISTORIC-HUMAN RIGHTS OF BANGSAMORO AND CHINA?". Moro National Liberation Front (Misuari faction). Retrieved 16 May 2014. 
  20. ^ RRayhanR (11 August 2012). "IMPACT OF POSSIBLE CHINA-PHILIPPINES WAR WITHIN FILIPINO-MORO WAR IN MINDANAO". Moro National Liberation Front (Misuari faction). Retrieved 16 May 2014. 
  21. ^ Bray, Adam (June 16, 2014). "The Cham: Descendants of Ancient Rulers of South China Sea Watch Maritime Dispute From Sidelines". National Geographic News (National Geographic). Archived from the original on 2014. Retrieved 3 September 2014. 
  22. ^ "Mission to Vietnam Advocacy Day (Vietnamese-American Meet up 2013) in the U.S. Capitol. A UPR report By IOC-Campa". 2013-09-14. Retrieved 2014-06-17. 
  23. ^ Taylor, Philip (December 2006). "Economy in Motion: Cham Muslim Traders in the Mekong Delta". The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology (The Australian National University) 7 (3): 238. doi:10.1080/14442210600965174. ISSN 1444-2213. Retrieved 3 September 2014. 
  24. ^ "Nation’s newest city takes root in South China Sea". Shanghai Municipal Government. 25 August 2012. Retrieved 8 August 2012. 
  25. ^ a b Bernstein, Richard; Munro, Ross H. (1998). The Coming Conflict with China. Vintage Books. p. 74. ISBN 978-0679776628. 
  26. ^ "专家建议造浮岛机场让战机作战半径覆盖南海" (in Chinese). Eastday. 4 June 2012. Retrieved 11 July 2012. 
  27. ^ Chang, Andrei (26 September 2008). "Analysis: China's air-sea buildup". Retrieved 11 July 2012. 
  28. ^ "Chinese government starts building a school in disputed island". Ang Malaya. 16 June 2014. Retrieved 16 June 2014. 

External links