Largest island in disputed Paracel chain

Satellite images of Woody Island, the largest of the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.
Satellite images of Woody Island, the largest of the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. PHOTO: EPA/ IMAGESAT INTERNATIONAL N.V

China has occupied Woody Island (known as Yongxing Island in Chinese and Dao Phu Lam in Vietnamese) for decades.

Beijing took full control of the Paracels in 1974 after a naval showdown with then South Vietnam, and there have been incidents since. The islands are also claimed by Taiwan.

In 2012, China made Woody Island the capital of a newly created administrative region called Sansha, in what was seen as an assertion of control over the disputed Paracel Islands.

Woody Island, the largest in the Paracel chain and located around 320km south of Hainan Island, has a population of around 1,000. A small garrison has been stationed there since 1985.

Its residents recently welcomed the island's first Chinese commercial flight on Feb 6, made possible following a major upgrade of the island's airport. Almost all the island's food, water and supplies must be sent in by ship or plane.

The Paracels are often hit by typhoons and strong winds.

Chinese media reported that Sansha, China's southernmost city administered by Hainan province, has so far received more than 10,000 tourists since cruises to the Paracels began in April 2013.

The Sansha city government plans to further boost its tourism industry with a second cruise ship link to the Paracels by the year end.

In December last year, Woody Island opened its first school, built over 11/2 years at a cost of more than 36 million yuan (S$7.8 million).

State oil giant Sinopec is also building a filling station and storage tank on the island.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 19, 2016, with the headline 'Largest island in disputed Paracel chain'. Print Edition | Subscribe