China eyes military in South China Sea 'city'

MANILA, Philippines – For China, this could be the best way to protect its interests in its new city covering the South China Sea: to establish military presence in Sansha, its new prefectural-level city.

In a statement issued Friday, June 29, Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson Geng Yangsheng bared proposals to set up a military presence in Sansha, which includes territories that the Philippines also claims, such as the Spratly Islands (Nansha) and Macclesfield Bank (Zhongsha).

Macclesfield Bank covers the disputed Scarborough Shoal, the site of a two-month standoff between the Philippines and China.

Recently, China established Sansha to “improve China's 'administrative management over Xisha (Paracel), Zhongsha, and Nansha islands and their future development.” (Read: South China Sea under new Chinese city.)

Sansha is stationed in the Paracel Islands, which is claimed by Vietnam.

Geng said China, in the first place, “has already set up a normal, combat-ready patrol system in seas under our control to protect national sovereignty and our security and development interests.” He also said, “We will resolutely fulfill our duties in accordance with the state's arrangements.”

Military presence

China's announcement came amid military drills scheduled in the Pacific.

On June 29, the US Pacific Fleet will begin the world's largest international maritime exercise in Hawaii. This is the annual Rim of the Pacific (Rimpac) naval exercise, which more countries will participate in this year, according to the US Defense Department.

“Rimpac provides a unique training opportunity that helps participants foster and sustain the cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world's oceans,” said the website devoted to the exercise.

The US Defense Department said 22 countries will participate in this year's Rimpac.

The Philippines, however, will not join the drills because it has separate drills with the US from July 2 to 10, said the Philippines' Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte in a press briefing Friday. The country will need to deploy its ships to its exercises with the US, Valte said. (Read: PH-US in naval war games.)

“We have sent, however, observers to be part of the multinational staff (in Hawaii),” she said.

China itself has scheduled navy drills in the West Pacific. “The annual drill by China's fleet in the west Pacific is not aimed at any specific country or target, and is in accordance with related international laws and practices,” Geng said.

China has shown agitation over US presence in regional disputes, the think-tank International Crisis Group said. (Read: China's internal politics fueling tension in South China Sea - ICG). — Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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