FISHING GROUND: Fishermen try to make a catch in water surrounding the Xisha Islands on May 6, 2012 (HOU JIANSEN)
There are nearly 300 cities in China. On June 21, the Chinese Government added another to that list. Sansha is the smallest city in China—it's also one of the most controversial, located in the politically sensitive South China Sea whose surrounding countries make overlapping sovereignty claims on the area.
A statement released by the Ministry of Civil Affairs on June 21 said that the city will govern the Xisha (Paracel), Zhongsha and Nansha (Spratly) islands and their adjacent waters. The Sansha Municipal Government will be seated on Yongxing Island of the Xisha Islands. The city has jurisdiction over an area of more than 2 million square km, most of which is water.
Sansha is part of China's administrative plan and long-term strategy on the South China Sea issue, said Li Guoqiang, Deputy Director of the Research Center for Chinese Borderland History and Geography at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
In November 2007, the State Council approved plans for Sansha. The plan was proposed by the Hainan Provincial Government, which previously held jurisdiction over the region.
China is the first country to discover, name and exercise sovereignty over the islands and their adjacent waters. The People's Republic of China set up a county-level administration office governing the area in 1959. In 1988, Hainan Province was established, and the administrative office was put under its auspices.
A spokesperson of the Ministry of Civil Affairs said on June 21 that the founding of Sansha will help improve China's administrative management in the area, promote its future development and protect the waters of the South China Sea.
In its 50-plus years of history, the administrative office had fulfilled its responsibilities, yet its functions were no longer compatible with the area's social and economic development, said Li.
Qu Xing, Director of China Institute of International Studies, said that setting up Sansha City will not only strengthen China's governance over these South China Sea islands and waters, but also safeguard the country's sovereignty and marine rights and interests in the area.
He said that Sansha will focus it routine work on marine environment protection, research and resource development. The Central Government and Hainan Provincial Government will provide necessary fiscal support to the city.
Through these actions, the Chinese Government is exercising legitimate jurisdiction over South China Sea islands, Qu said. Sansha will also handle fishery disputes in the South China Sea and protect fishermen's personal and property safety.
Like other cities, Sansha is bent on attracting investment to prop up its economy, improve people's livelihood, construct public utilities and improve social welfare, Li said.
"This is a very good opportunity for foreign enterprises to invest in the area," Li said. Foreign companies can seek approval from the Sansha Municipal Government to build factories or make other forms of investment to tap local resources according to relevant laws and regulations of the country, he said.