Beijing opens schools on island in disputed waters

China's national flag seen at a commercial district in Beijing.
China's national flag seen at a commercial district in Beijing.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING • China has set up schools and is building a filling station on an island in the South China Sea, as the country continues to expand its civilian infrastructure in the disputed waters to entrench its claims.

A primary school, a kindergarten and a vocational education centre opened this week on Woody Island, known in Chinese as Yongxing, Xinhua news agency said yesterday.

Woody Island is part of the Paracels, which are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.

The schools, built over 18 months at a cost of more than 36 million yuan (S$7.9 million), also have an archive building and even an underwater archaeology centre, Xinhua said. Six teachers have been flown in from Hainan, it added.

Meanwhile, state oil giant Sinopec yesterday said it will build a filling station and accompanying storage tank on Woody Island. The facilities will take a year to complete, the company, whose listed flagship is Sinopec Corp, said.

Woody Island has a population of roughly 1,000. China set up a city it calls Sansha on the island in 2012 and has since run it as part of its southern Hainan province.

Chinese travel agents began offering five-day cruises to the Paracels, a cluster of close to 40 islets, outcrops and reefs in 2013.

The filling station and storage tank will satisfy fuel needs in Chinese-controlled islands and reefs in the South China Sea over the next few years, the Sinopec post said.

"Nouveaux riches, go fishing in Sansha city, and remember to bring your filling card," it quipped.

China took full control of the Paracels in 1974, after a naval showdown with then South Vietnam, and there have been incidents ever since. The islands are called Xisha by the Chinese, and Hoang Sa by the Vietnamese.

Taiwan also claims the Paracels.

China claims almost all of the energy-rich waters of the South China Sea, through which more than US$5 trillion (S$7 trillion) of maritime trade passes each year.

The Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan have overlapping claims.

The United States has criticised China's building of artificial islands in the disputed Spratly archipelago, south of the Paracels, and has held sea and air patrols near them.

In October, a US guided-missile destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles of one of the artificial islands, and last month, B-52 bombers flew near some of them.

China said its navy has in recent days carried out more exercises in the disputed waterway. It called them routine drills.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 15, 2015, with the headline 'Beijing opens schools on island in disputed waters'. Print Edition | Subscribe