China tries to tighten grip on Spratlys

Posted at 06/21/2012 9:11 PM | Updated as of 06/21/2012 9:23 PM

MANILA, Philippines - China has flexed its political muscles in the West Philippine Sea by raising the administrative status of the Spratlys and other disputed islets, reefs, and shoals in the West Philippine Sea from county-level to prefectural-level, according to Chinese state media Thursday.

China's State Council gave the green light for the setting up of a new prefectural-level city of Sansha (City of Three Sands) to govern the Nansha (Spratlys), Xisha (Paracels), and Zhongsha (Macclesfield bank) islands, state news agency Xinhua reported.

The city's government seat will be based on Yongxing Island in the Paracels, the Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs said.

The move will help to improve China's "administrative management on Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha islands and their future development," a ministry spokesperson said.

"It is also conducive to protecting the oceanic environment of the South China Sea," the spokesperson added.

The Spratly Islands comprises more than 750 reefs, islets, atolls, cays, and islands in the West Philippine Sea.

The Spratlys, the Paracels, Macclesfield bank are being claimed in whole or in part by the Philippines, Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei.

The Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs has yet to comment the latest development in its territorial dispute with Beijing.

China frowns at PNoy, PAF fly-by

Meanwhile, the Chinese Foreign Ministry on Thursday criticized President Benigno Aquino for his statement that Philippine Air Force planes will soon fly over Spartlys to inspect the area.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Aquino should "stop making remarks that will influence public opinion," according to Xinhua.

Hong blamed the Philippines for allegedly causing the tension to erupt over Scarborough shoal, which Beijing calls as Huangyan Island.

"China hopes the Philippine side will do more to help the development of bilateral ties and refrain from stirring public opinion, so as to safeguard the recovery of bilateral ties," Hong said, as quoted by Xinhua.