China is planning to build an "island city" on three neighbouring islands in a disputed area of the South China Sea.
The announcement, made by Zhang Jun, the Communist Party secretary of Sansha, said the development would be a "key national strategic service and logistics base" on Woody Island (Yongxing, in Chinese) and the two nearby islets of Tree and Drummond (Zhaoshu and Jinqing).
He said in a press statement: "We need to carefully plan the overall development of the islands and reefs based on their different functions, taking into account their complementary relationship."
The islands are part of the Sansha district of China’s southernmost province of Hainan. Zhang said the decision followed a speech by President Xi Jinping last year and a central government directive issued in April to mark Hainan’s 30th anniversary.
The base would allow China’s navy and coast guard to replenish fuel and ammunition and to increase their operational capabilities.
Shi Yinhong, a professor specialising in US-China relations at Renmin University of China, told the South China Morning Post that the move was a response to US challenges over the South China Sea issue, but that Beijing wanted to keep the construction "low profile" so as to minimise tension with Washington.
He said: "If this is going to be on a large scale and carried out quickly – which I doubt – then the strategic response from the US will be somewhat dramatic, and the rivalry between Beijing and Washington will escalate. That would jeopardise Beijing’s key priorities, both domestic and international."
The US has been accusing China of "militarising" the South China Sea, and has contested China’s claims by sending freedom of navigation patrols through areas that China claims.
Image: An aerial view of Woody Island (Paul Spijkers/Gnu Licence)
If it’s used for peaceful purposes, why not. For any islands or unclaimed land, whoever is there first claim the ownership.
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