China formally establishes South China Sea city

Posted at 07/24/2012 6:22 PM

BEIJING, China - China held a ceremony on Tuesday,  marking the formal establishment of a city on a disputed South China Sea island, state media reported.

China has called the city Sansha. It is located on a disputed island known as Yongxing island in China, state media said.

It is known in English as Woody Island, part of the Paracel Islands also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.

China took full control of the islands in 1974 after a naval showdown with Vietnam.

"The establishment of Sansha city as a foundation is the result of a wise decision by the Chinese Communist Party's Central Committee and State Council to safeguard national sovereignty and security, to strengthen the protection of resources and overall development in the South China Sea," said Mayor Xiao Jie, addressing the audience of government officials and officers at the ceremony.

Xiao was elected the city's first mayor on July 23 in the first session of the city's People's Congress, in which 45 legislators cast their votes at the session, official news agency Xinhua said.

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 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".

China's powerful Central Military Commission on July 22 approved the establishment of a military garrison in Sansha, Xinhua reported.

The South China Sea has become Asia's biggest potential military flashpoint as Beijing's sovereignty claim over the huge area has set it against Vietnam and the Philippines as the three countries race to tap possibly huge oil reserves.