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Aerial view of Yongxing Island (Woody Island), the seat of Sansha, 2009
Aerial view of Yongxing Island (Woody Island), the seat of Sansha, 2009
Location Sansha jurisdiction (in pink) in Hainan
Location Sansha jurisdiction (in pink) in Hainan
Sansha (South China Sea)
Location of the major islands in Sansha
Coordinates: 16°50′03″N 112°20′15″E / 16.83417°N 112.33750°E / 16.83417; 112.33750
Prefecture24 July 2012[1]
City seatWoody Island
(Yongxing Dao)
 • CPC Municipal Party SecretaryZhang Jun (张军)
 • MayorA Dong (阿东)
 • Land< 13 km2 (< 5 sq mi)
 • Water~2,000,000 km2 (~772,000 sq mi)
 • Total1,443
Time zoneUTC+08:00 (China Standard Time)
Postal code
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
Hanyu PinyinSānshā
Literal meaningthree 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.[3] The entire territory is disputed,[4][5][6] 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.[7]

Sansha has equal administrative status to a prefecture-level city, and was created on 24 July 2012.[8] 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,.[3] 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.[9][10] Sansha administers a group of 260 islands, reefs and beaches located in the Spratlys (Nansha), Paracel, Xisha islands and Zhongsha islands (Macclesfield bank).[11]

Recent history

Yongxing Town on Woody Island

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.[12] 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".[12] 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.[12]

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:[13] 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.[14]

On 24 July 2012, the PRC officially established the city of Sansha in Yongxing Island.[8]

Administrative divisions

Sansha is governed by a municipal congress of 60 delegates directly elected, with a standing committee of 15 members.[15] 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:

Division code[16]
County-level divisions (International Name)
Township-level divisions Village-level divisions
Xisha District (Paracel Islands)
Xīshā Qúndǎo
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
Qīliányǔ Guǎnlǐqū
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)
Nánshā Qúndǎo
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

Industries and facilities

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.[20]

In 2016, a government school and a public library were opened in the island, primarily for children of the islanders.[21][22] In the same year, a desalinating plant was established to provide drinking water to the island's residents.[23]

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.[24]


"Greening the islands"

The second stage of a greening project for Sansha was announced on 30 June 2014.[25] 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 million litres/day) and upgrades to photovoltaic equipment.

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 [26] approved by the PRC's State Council, as Vietnam claims two of the three island groups that comprise Sansha.[27] This was later followed by student demonstrations at the Chinese embassy in Hanoi, and at a consulate in Ho Chi Minh City.[28]

Days prior to the official establishment of the city in late July 2012,[8] Vietnam again stated its opposition and was joined in its protests by the Philippines.[29] 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."[30] 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.[31] While Senator Webb stated that the establishment of Sansha was China "creating a governmental system out of nothing",[31] the Chinese government has included the island groups that comprise Sansha in its administrative structure since 1959.[32] 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.[33]

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.[34]

The centre of government for Sansha is located on Woody Island (Yongxing Dao) in the Paracels,[33] where about 1,000 Chinese (PRC) reside.[10] With a land area of 210ha, Woody Island is the largest contiguous land area in the South China Sea.[35] The total land area of Sansha, which includes the islands in the Paracel and Spratly groups, is less than 5 square miles (13 km2).[36] Nationally, Sansha is the smallest prefecture-level city, by both population and land area, but the largest by total area,[37] 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).[38] A civilian test flight to the runway was conducted by a China Southern Airlines passenger jet on 13 July 2016.[39] On 16 February 2016, the New York Times reported that China had deployed HQ‑9 surface‑to‑air missiles on the island.[40]

In late 2016, photographs emerged which suggested that Mischief Reef was armed with anti-aircraft weapons and a CIWS missile-defence system.[41] 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.

See also


  1. ^ "South China's Sansha City boasts improved infrastructure". Xinhua. 11 March 2016. Retrieved 1 June 2018.
  2. ^ 三沙概览. (in Chinese). Government of Sansha. Retrieved 13 March 2015. not including the floating population of 2,000 and more; only residents are counted
  3. ^ a b "China sets up Sansha City to administer South China Sea islands". Sina. 21 June 2012. Retrieved 21 June 2012.
  4. ^ Hiufu Wong, CNN. "China to open disputed islands to tourism". CNN. Retrieved 18 July 2015.
  5. ^ "China throws 'birthday party' for new city at the heart of disputed South China Sea (of course, the neighbours weren't invited)". Mail Online. Retrieved 18 July 2015.
  6. ^ "China Declares New 'City' On Tiny, Remote Island". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 18 July 2015.
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b c "China establishes Sansha City". Xinhua. 24 July 2012. Retrieved 24 July 2012.
  9. ^ "Sansha garrison". China Daily. 7 July 2012. Retrieved 15 August 2012.
  10. ^ a b Lague, David (25 July 2012). "China's hawks gaining sway in South China sea dispute". Reuters. Hong Kong. Retrieved 7 August 2012.
  11. ^ "Sansha Travel Guide". Travel China. Retrieved 31 May 2018.
  12. ^ a b c "China's Jurisdiction over the South China Sea". Beijing Review.
  13. ^ "Vietnam, China: The Dispute over Significant Waterways". Free Intelligence Reports. Stratfor. 4 December 2007. Retrieved 8 December 2007.[dead link]
  14. ^ BBC News, China Approves Military Garrison, 23 July 2012
  15. ^ "Sansha government". Xinhua Net. 17 July 2012. Retrieved 8 August 2012.
  16. ^ 2013国家统计局统计用区划代码. National Bureau of Statistics of the PRC, 2013. 2013.
  17. ^ Xisha District effectively maintains control over all the features of the Paracels.[citation needed]
  18. ^ Nasha District has actual control over 7 islands reclaimed on top of reefs or atolls.[citation needed]
  19. ^ Zhongsha District does not have actual control of this area.[citation needed] There are no settlements and no inhabitants in this area, nor are there any islands, nor is there any land above water.
  20. ^ "China's Sansha island draws world's largest companies". Xinhua. 24 November 2016. Retrieved 1 June 2018.
  21. ^ "China's southernmost school opens inc". Xinhua. 2 November 2016. Retrieved 1 June 2018.
  22. ^ "First library opened in Sansha in South China Sea". Xinhua. 21 April 2016. Retrieved 1 June 2018.
  23. ^ "New desalinator put into use in China's Sansha". Xinhua. 2 November 2016. Retrieved 1 June 2018.
  24. ^ Flightradar24. "Live Flight Tracker - Real-Time Flight Tracker Map". Flightradar24. Retrieved 28 March 2019.
  25. ^ "China Focus: South China islands see green transformation". 30 July 2014. Retrieved 13 September 2014.
  26. ^ "Hà Nội và Sài Gòn biểu tình chống Trung Quốc" (in Vietnamese). Đài Á Châu Tự do. Retrieved 18 July 2015.
  27. ^ "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.
  28. ^ Symon, Andrew (20 December 2007). "China, Vietnam churn diplomatic waters". Asia Times Online. Retrieved 7 August 2012.
  29. ^
  30. ^ "Victoria Nuland, Spokesperson: Daily Press Briefing, Washington, DC, July 24, 2012". United States Department of State. 24 July 2012. Retrieved 27 July 2012.
  31. ^ a b "Senator Webb: China's military and governmental expansion into South China Sea might be a "Violation of International Law"". United States Senate. 25 July 2012. Archived from the original on 15 December 2012. Retrieved 27 July 2012.
  32. ^ "China opposes US statement on S. China Sea". CCTV. 5 August 2012. Retrieved 7 August 2012.
  33. ^ a b Stirring up the South China Sea (II): Regional responses. Asia Report N°229. International Crisis Group. July 2012. p. 5. Retrieved 7 August 2012.
  34. ^
  35. ^ Pratas Island has an area of 240ha, but this includes a 60ha lagoon.
  36. ^ USA Today, Tiny island in South China Sea is stirring up tensions, Calum MacLeod, 12 July 2012
  37. ^ Alexa Olesen (Associated Press) (24 July 2012). "China dubs tiny island new city in sea claim bid". Retrieved 24 July 2012.[dead link]
  38. ^ "Airstrips near Completion". Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative. January 2016. Retrieved 30 January 2016.
  39. ^ "China conducts test flights on two new airports on Nansha Islands". Xinhua. Retrieved 14 July 2016.
  40. ^ Forsythe, Michael; Soble, Jonathan; Landler, Mark; Huang, Yufan; Li, Mia (17 February 2016). "Missiles Deployed on Disputed South China Sea Island, Officials Say". The New York Times. p. A6. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 18 February 2016.
  41. ^ "China's New Spratly Island Defenses". Center for Strategic and International Studies. 13 December 2016. Retrieved 17 December 2016.

External links