Vietnam, Philippines Slam Garrison Plans

Despite the escalating tensions in the region due to the inconclusive ASEAN resolution, Xinhua reports that China has officially established Sansha city in the South China Sea, on an island that is partially claimed by Vietnam:

China on Tuesday officially set up the city of Sansha on Yongxing Island in the southernmost province of Hainan.

The national flag was hoisted while the national anthem played after the signboards of the Sansha Municipal Government and the Sansha Municipal Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) were unveiled.

On Tuesday, 613 local residents living off fishing became official residents of Sansha.

The newly elected city government has planned to make tourism one of three economic engines for the development of Sansha city, besides fishing and oil and gas exploration, according to Xia Jie, the city mayor elected on Monday.

CDT previously reported on China’s plans to establish a military garrison on the disputed island . Vietnam and the Philippines have responded by slamming China’s garrison plan. Aside from China’s deployment of a military garrison, Navy warships have also been in the region. From AFP:

Hanoi filed a formal protest with Beijing against the plan outlined by China this week to station troops in Sansha in the disputed Paracel Islands, saying it “violates international law”.

Manila, which is involved in a dispute over another archipelago, the Spratly Islands, also weighed into the row, summoning the Chinese ambassador to lodge a complaint against the garrison announcement.

The disputes have become particularly acrimonious in recent weeks, with Vietnam and the Philippines criticising what they call Chinese encroachment.

Beijing's garrison plan “violates international law, seriously violates Vietnam's sovereignty… and is invalid,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Luong Thanh Nghi told AFP.

Amid Hanoi and Manila’s protests, another AFP article reports that the International Crisis Group claims that an armed conflict is possible:

Prospects of solving the disputes “seem to be diminishing” after a recent failure by the 10-nation ASEAN grouping to hammer out a “code of conduct” that would govern actions in the sea, the International Crisis Group (ICG) said.

“Without a consensus on a resolution mechanism, tensions in the South China Sea can easily spill over into armed conflict,” warned Paul Quinn-Judge, the ICG's program director for Asia.

The Brussels-based ICG said in its report on Tuesday that China had “worked actively to exploit” the divisions in ASEAN by offering preferential treatment to members of the bloc that supported its position in the dispute.

The ICG said the best way to ease the tensions would be for the rival claimants to agree on ways to share the natural resources on offer in the South China Sea.

As concern grows over China’s increasing military presence in the South China Sea, China has showed foreign media its military helicopters in a bid for transparency, according to Reuters:

China organises annual tours of military bases to try to assuage those concerns and to answer criticism over a perceived lack of transparency, but officials refused to answer any contentious questions.

While the Defence Ministry announced over the weekend it would set up a formal military garrison for the South China Sea, officers accompanying reporters to the Tongzhou base in Beijing's far east avoided the issue.

“Our military's aim is to protect peace. The training exercises we carry out are normal and in line with what we always do,” Zhang Zhilin, the jocular commander of the Army Aviation 4th Helicopter Regiment, told reporters.

“Do you really think we're not transparent? Actually we're extremely transparent,” Defence Ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng told reporters on the base's sun-baked concrete apron, brushing off such remarks.