Aerial view of Yongxing Island (Woody Island), the seat of Sansha, 2009
Location Sansha jurisdiction (in pink) in Hainan
Location of the major islands in Sansha
|Prefecture||24 July 2012|
|City seat||Woody Island|
|• CPC Municipal Party Secretary||Zhang Jun (张军)|
|• Mayor||A Dong (阿东)|
|• Land||< 13 km2 (< 5 sq mi)|
|• Water||~2,000,000 km2 (~772,000 sq mi)|
|Time zone||UTC+08:00 (China Standard Time)|
|Territorial Dispute: There are on-going territorial disputes in the entire area covered by the city, whose administrative authority is not internationally recognized.|
"Sansha", as written in Chinese
|Literal meaning||three sands (referring to the Chinese names for the three island groups)|
Sansha is a prefecture-level city of Hainan province of the People's Republic of China (PRC). It is located on Woody Island and administers (actually or nominally) several island groups and undersea atolls in the South China Sea including the Spratly Islands, the Paracel Islands, Macclesfield Bank, Scarborough Shoal, and a number of other ungrouped maritime features. The entire territory is disputed, and the PRC's de facto control over the area varies.
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.
Sansha has equal administrative status to a prefecture-level city, and was created on 24 July 2012. Reports in 2012 in the China daily stated that the establishment of Sansha was simply an upgrade of the administrative status of these island groups from the previous county-level Administrative Office,. Subsequent developments have turned Sansha city (located on Woody island) into a small town with a small non commercial airport and a small harbor with two sets of breakwaters. Sansha administers a group of 260 islands, reefs and beaches located in the Spratlys (Nansha), Paracel, Xisha islands and Zhongsha islands (Macclesfield bank).
Also see History of Woody island
In March 1953, as talks were proceeding with the French on the handing over of Hainan and territories south of Guangdong to the People's Republic of China, the Chinese State Council authorized the establishment of a separate "Guangdong Province Paracels, Spratlys, and Zhongsha Islands Authority" as a county-level administrative division on Woody Island (Yongxing Dao). However, the island continued to support a threadbare population of fisherfolk at that time. In March 1959, during China's Cultural Revolution, when Revolutionary Committees were being set up across the country, this authority was upgraded to the "Guangdong Province Paracels, Spratlys, and Zhongsha Islands Revolutionary Committee". In October 1984, the administration of Sansha consisting of Yong xing dao (Woody island) and other islands in the South China sea was transferred to Hainan. This coincided with the establishment of Hainan as a separate administrative region. In September 1988,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.
The prospect of the establishment of a "city" on Woody Island was first publicized 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: 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[vague] supplies and logistics to the to-be-established city.
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.
On 24 July 2012, the PRC officially established the city of Sansha in Yongxing Island.
Sansha is governed by a municipal congress of 60 delegates directly elected, with a standing committee of 15 members. It is further subdivided into 3 islands-districts at county-level, 3 towns/management committees at the township-level, and further into 11 residential communities at village-level, based on the island groups:
County-level divisions (International Name)
|Township-level divisions||Village-level divisions|
Xisha District (Paracel Islands)
District seat: Yongxing
|Yongxing Town Management Area
Yǒngxìng Zhèn Guǎnlǐqū
|Yongxing Residential Community 永兴社区 Yǒngxìng Shèqū|
|Yingqu Residential Community 营区社区 Yíngqū Shèqū|
|Qilianyu Management Area
|Beidao Residential Community 北岛社区 Běidǎo Shèqū|
|Zhaoshu Residential Community 赵述社区 Zhàoshù Shèqū|
|Yonglequndao Management Area
Yǒnglè Qúndǎo Guǎnlǐqū
|Jinqing Residential Community 晋卿社区 Jìnqīng Shèqū|
|Yinyu Residential Community 银屿社区 Yínyǔ Shèqū|
|Lingyang Residential Community 羚羊社区 Língyáng Shèqū|
|Ganquan Residential Community 甘泉社区 Gānquán Shèqū|
|Yagong Residential Community 鸭公社区 Yāgōng Shèqū|
Nansha District (Spratly Islands)
District seat: Yongshu
|Direct Prefectural-controlled||Yongshu Residential Community 永暑社区 Yǒngshǔ Shèqū|
|Meiji Residential Community 美济社区 Měijì Shèqū|
|(unincorporated) Zhubi Island 渚碧岛 Zhǔbì Dǎo|
|(unincorporated) Huangyang Island 华阳岛 Huáyáng Dǎo|
|(unincorporated) Chigua Island 赤瓜岛 Chìguā Dǎo|
|(unincorporated) Nanxun Island 南薰岛 Nánxūn Dǎo|
|(unincorporated) Dongmen Island 东门岛 Dōngmén Dǎo|
Zhongsha District (Macclesfield Bank & Scarborough Shoal)
Zhōngshā Qúndǎo De Dǎojiāo Jíqí Hǎiyù
District seat: Huangyan
|(unincorporated) Huangyan Island 黄岩岛 Huángyán Dǎo|
|(unincorporated) Zhongsha Bank 中沙大环礁 Zhōngshā Dàhuán Jiāo|
Less than 1000 people live in Sansha city (which is located on Woody Island, a small island in the Paracels). They tend to practice fishing, and selling products to the occasional cruise ship (MV Qionghai 3 and MV Sansha 1) whose tourists visit the island. In November 2016, the Hainan government started to allow large companies to register themselves in Sansha, by providing extensive tax benefits to them. This resulted in 157 large national and multinational companies registering themselves in Sansha.
In 2016, a government school and a public library were opened in the island, primarily for children of the islanders. In the same year, a desalinating plant was established to provide drinking water to the island's residents.
Airports are built on several islands in Sansha City, including Yongxing Island (woody island), Meiji Island, Yongshu Island and Zhubi Island, all of which are capable for planes sizing up to 4E standards, theoretically capable of landing Boeing 777s as diversion airports. In practice, only Yongxing Island see scheduled commercial services, onboard Boeing 737 operated by Hainan Airlines.
The second stage of a greening project for Sansha was announced on 30 June 2014. 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:
It also mentions substantial infrastructure upgrades to Woody Island, including waste-water treatment, garbage aggregation and treatment, desalination (1 million litres/day) and upgrades to photovoltaic equipment.
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. This was later followed by student demonstrations at the Chinese embassy in Hanoi, and at a consulate in Ho Chi Minh City.
Days prior to the official establishment of the city in late July 2012, Vietnam again stated its opposition and was joined in its protests by the Philippines. 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." 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. While Senator Webb stated that the establishment of Sansha was China "creating a governmental system out of nothing", the Chinese government has included the island groups that comprise Sansha in its administrative structure since 1959. 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.
Western reaction to the 2012 declaration of the Chinese government elevating the administrative status of Sansha 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, where about 1,000 Chinese (PRC) reside. With a land area of 210ha, Woody Island is the largest contiguous land area in the South China Sea. The total land area of Sansha, which includes the islands in the Paracel and Spratly groups, is less than 5 square miles (13 km2). Nationally, Sansha is the smallest prefecture-level city, by both population and land area, but the largest by total area, and is also the southernmost prefecture-level city of the PRC.
By January 2016, work was well advanced on developing a military base with a large harbour and a 2,644 metres (8,675 ft) runway, with the reclaimed land covering 558 hectares (1,380 acres). A civilian test flight to the runway was conducted by a China Southern Airlines passenger jet on 13 July 2016. On 16 February 2016, the New York Times reported that China had deployed HQ‑9 surface‑to‑air missiles on the island.
In late 2016, photographs emerged which suggested that Mischief Reef was armed with anti-aircraft weapons and a CIWS missile-defence system. In May 2018, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a US think tank, said satellite images showed China had deployed new military weapon platforms to Woody Island, the largest of the Paracels.