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Title: Sansha  
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Subject: Paracel Islands, Spratly Islands, Yongxing Island Airport, Woody Island (South China Sea), Wanning
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Prefecture-level city
Location Sansha City jurisdiction (in pink) in Hainan
Location Sansha City jurisdiction (in pink) in Hainan
Sansha is located in South China Sea
Location of the prefectural seat
Country People's Republic of China
Province Hainan
Prefecture-level city 24 July 2012 (UTC+8)
City seat Woody Island (Yongxing Dao)
 • CPC Municipal Party Secretary Fu Zhuang (符戆)
 • Mayor Xiao Jie (肖杰)
 • Land 13 km2 (5 sq mi)
 • Water ~2,000,000 km2 (~772,000 sq mi)
Population (2010 Census)
 • Total 444
 • Estimate (2012[1]) ~1,000
 • Urban density 34.15/km2 (88.4/sq mi)
 • Chinese 100%
 • Chinese 100%
Time zone China Standard Time (UTC+8)
Postal code 573100
Territorial Dispute: There are on-going territorial disputes in the entire area covered by the city, whose administrative authority is not internationally recognized.
Chinese 三沙
Hanyu Pinyin Sānshā
Literal meaning three sands (referring to the Chinese names for the three island groups)

Sansha is a prefecture of Hainan province, People's Republic of China, administering (actually or nominally) several island groups and undersea atolls in the South China Sea, and comprising the Spratly Islands, the Paracel Islands and the Macclesfield Bank and other ungrouped maritime features.[2] The entire territory is disputed, and the PRC's de facto control over the area varies. Sansha has equal administrative status to a prefecture-level city, and was created on 24 July 2012.[3]

The establishment of Sansha is simply an upgrade of the administrative status of these island groups from the previous county-level Administrative Office,[2] and construction of a city is not actually underway. A garrison may be established, however.[4][5]

Foreign reaction to the declaration was not positive. The United States Department of State called the change in the administrative status of the territory "unilateral", and the move has received criticism from nations engaged in the South China Sea dispute, particularly the Philippines and Vietnam.

The centre of government for Sansha is located on Woody Island (Yongxing Dao) in the Paracels,[6] where some 600 Chinese civilians reside.[5]

With a land area of 210ha, Woody Island is the largest contiguous land area in the South China Sea.[7] The total land area of Sansha, which includes the islands in the Paracel and Spratly groups, is less than 5 square miles (13 km2).[8] Nationally, Sansha is the smallest prefecture-level city, by both population and land area, but the largest by total area,[1] and is also the southernmost prefecture of the PRC.

Administrative divisions

Sansha is governed by a municipal congress of 60 delegates directly elected, with a standing committee of 15 members.[9] It is further subdivided into 3 islands-districts at county-level, 3 towns at the township level (4th-level subdivision) and further into village-levels, based on the island groups:

International Name
Division code[10]
County-level divisions
(Official name)
Township-level divisions Village-level divisions
Paracel Islands
Xisha District
(Xisha Islands)
Xīshā Qúndǎo
Yongxing Dao Neighborhood Committee
(Woody Island)
  • Prefectural-controlled
  1. Yongxing Community
  2. Yongxingcun
  3. Xuande Community
  4. Beidao Community
  5. Zhaoshu Community
  6. Qilianyucun
  • Yongle Qundao-controlled
  1. Yongle Qundao Community
  2. Jinqing Community
  3. Yinyu Community
  4. Lingyang Community
  5. Yagong Community
Spratly Islands
Nansha District
(Nansha Islands)
Nánshā Qúndǎo
Yongshu Jiao Neighborhood Committee
(Fiery Cross Reef)
  • Prefectural-controlled
  1. Yongshu Community
  2. Meiji Community
Macclesfield Bank
Zhongsha District
(Zhongsha Islands, Reefs, and Waters)
Zhōngshā Qúndǎo
De Dǎojiāo Jíqí Hǎiyù
Zhongsha Dao and Jiao Neighborhood Committee none


New Baselines and EEZs of China

Following being given approval by the State Council on 24 March 1953,[14] the "Guangdong Province Paracels, Spratlys, and Zhongsha Islands Authority" was established as a county-level administrative division on Woody Island (Yongxing Dao). During the Cultural Revolution, when Revolutionary Committees were being set up across the country, the Authority was upgraded to the "Guangdong Province Paracels, Spratlys, and Zhongsha Islands Revolutionary Committee" on 4 March 1959.[14] On 22 October 1981 the original Authority was restored. Administration was transferred to Hainan on National Day, 1984, when the Hainan Administrative Region was established, followed by the establishment of Hainan Province on 13 April 1988. On 19 September 1988,[14] the Authority's name was officially changed to the "Hainan Province Paracels, Spratlys, and Zhongsha Islands Authority". On 25 December 2006, Woody Island census-town's first-ever Residents' and Fishermen's Congress was held. Three representatives at the township and village levels were selected to represent the census-town's Neighborhood Committee of the North and South Villages. The Neighborhood Committee began work on Woody Island the following day with an office at the Border Guards of the Paracels' Police Station. These were the first ever actual subdivisions created within the county-level authority.[14]

The prospect of the establishment of a "city" on Woody Island was first mooted on 19 November 2007 in a report by Mingpao, a Hong Kong-based newspaper, through a telephone interview with a Mr. Zhang of the Propaganda Department of Wenchang, Hainan. This report claimed that a county-level city was to be established by the PRC State Council in November 2007 to administer three disputed archipelagos in the South China Sea:[15] the Paracel Islands, Macclesfield Bank (Zhongsha Islands) and the Spratly Islands. This was to replace the county-level "Paracels, Spratlys, and Zhongsha Islands Authority". The city of Wenchang would provide supplies and logistics to the to-be-established city. The article also stated that Wenchang's municipal party secretary Xie Wenzhang had announced a similar decision at the municipal congress on 26 October 2007(?). It was referred to simply as "City X". The article finally concluded with the possibility of the opening of Woody Island to tourism as a next step. However, until June 2012, there had been no official announcement of a decision by the Chinese government.

On 23 July 2012 the PRC Central Military Commission announced it had authorized the People's Liberation Army Guangzhou Military Command to form a "garrison command" in Sansha City. The troops would be responsible for managing the city's national defence mobilisation, military reserve, and carrying out military operations.[16]

On 24 July 2012, the PRC officially established the city of Sansha in Yongxing Island.[3]

Controversy and protests

Because Sansha's jurisdiction comprises island groups that several nations besides the PRC claim as their own, the "city" is considered by some as controversial.

In 2007, the Foreign Ministry of Vietnam protested against the city's proposed establishment, which had been recently approved by the PRC's State Council, as Vietnam claims two of the three island groups that comprise Sansha.[17] This was later followed by student demonstrations at the Chinese embassy in Hanoi, and at a consulate in Ho Chi Minh City.[18]

Days prior to the official establishment of the city in late July 2012,[3] Vietnam again stated its opposition and was joined in its protests by the Philippines.[19] The United States Department of State also weighed in on the issue stating, "we remain concerned should there be any unilateral moves of this kind that would seem to prejudge an issue."[20] The chair of the US Senate Foreign Relations East Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee, Jim Webb, also made a statement regarding Sansha and questioned whether the city's creation was a violation of international law.[21] While Senator Webb stated that the establishment of Sansha was China "creating a governmental system out of nothing",[21] the Chinese government has included the island groups that comprise Sansha in its administrative structure since 1959.[22] Before these island groups were under the nominal administration of Sansha, they were nominally administered by an administrative office under the provincial government of Hainan.[6]



Although all of the Paracels have been under China's control since the late 1970s, the islands' strategic military position and status as disputed territory (with several claimants' military personnel nearby), have made the development of tourism a low priority. Nevertheless, in 2005 the provincial government of Hainan instituted a small organising panel to investigate and discuss the possibility of opening up tourism to Woody Island and the rest of the Paracels. Since then, initiatives have mainly addressed the Crescent Group of the Paracel Islands, with the announcement of cruise ships visiting Duncan Island in 2007, and the opening of Drummond Island, Robert Island and various islets and cays in the NE of the Crescent group in late 2013.

"Greening the islands"

The second stage of a greening project for Sansha was announced on 30 June 2014.[23] It states: "According to the investment plan, 18 million yuan (about 2.92 million U.S. dollars) will be used to build desalination systems and grow trees on Xishazhou Island (West Sand - NW Crescent Group) in the hope of turning the island into a new oasis." The article makes references to the greening of:

  • Ganquan Island (Robert Island) - W Crescent Group between Antelope Reef and Pattle Island, where an environmental protection station was set up in February 2014
  • Jinqin (Drummond Island) - E Crescent Group
  • Lingyangjiao (Antelope Reef) - W Crescent Group between Money and Robert Islands
  • Xishazhou Island (West Sand) - NW Crescent Group
  • Yagong Island - NE Crescent Group, between Tree Island and Observation Bank
  • Yinyu (Observation Bank / Silver Islet) - NE Crescent Group
  • Yongxing Island (Woody Island) - Centre of Amphitrite group
  • Zhaoshu (Tree Island) - N Crescent Group

It also mentions substantial infrastructure upgrades to Woody Island, including waste-water treatment, garbage aggregation and treatment, desalination (1 Mega-litre/day) and upgrades to photovoltaic equipment.

See also


  1. ^ a b Alexa Olesen ( 
  2. ^ a b "China sets up Sansha City to administer South China Sea islands".  
  3. ^ a b c "China establishes Sansha City". Xinhua. 24 July 2012. Retrieved 24 July 2012. 
  4. ^ "Sansha garrison".  
  5. ^ a b Lague, David (25 Jul 2012). "China's hawks gaining sway in South China sea dispute". Reuters (Hong Kong). Retrieved 7 August 2012. 
  6. ^ a b "Stirring up the South China Sea (II): Regional responses". Asia Report N°229 (International Crisis Group). July 2012: 5. Retrieved 7 August 2012. 
  7. ^ Pratas Island has an area of 240ha, but this includes a 60ha lagoon.
  8. ^ USA Today, Tiny island in South China Sea is stirring up tensions, Calum MacLeod, 12 July 2012
  9. ^ "Sansha government". Xinhua Net. 17 July 2012. Retrieved 8 August 2012. 
  10. ^ 2013国家统计局统计用区划代码, National Bureau of Statistics of the PRC, 2013.
  11. ^ Xisha District effectively maintains control over all the features of the Paracels.
  12. ^ Nasha District has actual control over 9 features and James Shoal.
  13. ^ Zhongsha District does not have actual control of this area. Note also that there are no settlements and no inhabitants in this area.
  14. ^ a b c d "China's Jurisdiction over the South China Sea". Beijing Review. 
  15. ^ "Vietnam, China: The Dispute over Significant Waterways". Free Intelligence Reports ( 
  16. ^ BBC News, China Approves Military Garrison, 23 July 2012
  17. ^ "Vietnam objects to China's establishment of San Sha city on the Hainan Island". Ministry of Foreign Affairs' spokesman Mr. Le Dzung answers questions on 3rd December 2007. Vietnam Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 3 December 2007. Retrieved 7 August 2012. 
  18. ^ Symon, Andrew (20 December 2007). "China, Vietnam churn diplomatic waters". Asia Times Online. Retrieved 7 August 2012. 
  19. ^
    • For Vietnamese stated opposition, see "REFILE-PRESS DIGEST – Vietnam newspapers – June 22". Reuters. 21 Jun 2012. Retrieved 7 August 2012. 
    • For Philippines stated opposition, see "Philippines summons Chinese ambassador to protest Sansha city".  
  20. ^ "Victoria Nuland, Spokesperson: Daily Press Briefing, Washington, DC, July 24, 2012".  
  21. ^ a b """Senator Webb: China’s military and governmental expansion into South China Sea might be a "Violation of International Law.  
  22. ^ "China opposes US statement on S. China Sea". CCTV. 5 August 2012. Retrieved 7 August 2012. 
  23. ^ "China Focus: South China islands see green transformation". 30 July 2014. Retrieved 13 September 2014. 

External links

  • Administrative divisions of Hainan Province
  • Hainan Province Paracels, Spratlys, and Zhongsha Islands Authority
  • Hainan Province Paracels, Spratlys, and Zhongsha Islands Authority Woody Island Census Town
  • Subdivision Information of the Hainan Province Paracels, Spratlys, and Zhongsha Islands Authority
  • US criticises China garrison
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