A patch of a two sq km of barren land with 613 residents has become the newest city, Sansha, to be established on the South China sea island of Yongxing, part of a group of islands China is locked in dispute with Vietnam and Philippines among other countries.
China's Central Military Commission has already approved the formation of a Sansha garrison command responsible for "national defense" and "military operations."
It’s off the southern most Chinese district of Hainan by about 350 sq km and is only connected by a ship that makes two trips from the mainland with supplies every month, good weather permitting.
The new city’s jurisdiction will roughly be over 13 square km of land, comprising other small islands in the region, but over 2 million square km of the choppy seas surrounding it.
Beijing’s focus is clear – it wants Sansha to strengthen its control over the disputed — and potentially oil-rich — islands.
The city government of Sansha is located on the 2.13-square km Yongxing Island, the largest island in the Xisha Islands group.
Wei Qiqiang, a 61-year-old fisherman on the island, told the state-run Xinhua news agency fishermen used to live in huts made of wood panels when he first arrived on the isolated island in 1979.
“The island has now taken the shape of a city with infrastructure including a small military airport, a sea port, roads, a clinic, a post office and an observatory,” Xinhua said.
For many locals, the main trouble of living on the island is the lack of medical services. But, according to Xinhua, this problem should be solved after the New Xisha People's Hospital is completed. It is scheduled to open by the end of the year.
Official broadcaster China Central Television telecast formal establishment ceremony live from Sansha, with speeches from the city's new mayor and other officials.
The Chinese flag was raised and the Sansha Municipal Committee of the Communist Party of China was unveiled on a white-columned government building.
Luo Baoyou, Party chief of Hainan province, said in a keynote speech that Sansha was established to administer the Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha islands and their surrounding waters in the South China Sea.
"The provincial government will be devoted to turning the city into an important base to safeguard China's sovereignty and serve marine resource development," he said.
Neither Philippines nor Vietnam were impressed. Agencies quoted a spokesperson for the Philippines Foreign Ministry as saying that Manila did not recognize the city or its jurisdiction. Vietnam said China's actions violated international law.