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Nation’s newest city takes root in South China Sea

    China’s newest city was established in the South China Sea yesterday morning.

    As blustery island winds buffeted palm trees, Mayor Miao Jie declared Sansha, with a population of just 1,000, China’s newest city.

    The city is a tiny and remote island barely large enough to host a single airstrip. There is a post office, bank, supermarket and a hospital, but little else. Fresh water comes by freighter on a 13-hour journey from China’s southern Hainan Island.

    The central government has created the city administration to oversee not only the rugged outpost but hundreds of thousands of square kilometers of water.

    Luo Baoming, Party chief of Hainan Province, said at the ceremony that Sansha had been established to administer the Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha islands and their surrounding waters in the South China Sea. Sansha is under the jurisdiction of Hainan.

    “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, adding that the main task at present would be to build up political power in Sansha to ensure efficient management.

    The city government is located on Yongxing Island, a part of the Xisha Islands and the largest island in the area. Yongxing, about 350 kilometers from Hainan, is little more than the size of Manhattan’s Central Park.

    China has approved the formal establishment of a military garrison for Sansha, though specific details have yet to be released.

    China Central Television aired yesterday’s formal establishment ceremony live from Sansha, with speeches from the city’s new mayor and other officials.

    The Chinese flag was raised and the national anthem played before plaques for the Sansha municipal government and the Sansha municipal committee of the Communist Party of China were unveiled on a white-columned government building.

    Sansha’s jurisdiction covers just 13 square kilometers of land but 2 million square kilometers of surrounding waters.

    Sansha means “three sandbanks” in Mandarin and appears to refer to the Chinese names for the Xisha, Nansha and Zhongsha island chains.

    Wei Qiqiang, a 61-year-old fisherman on the island, said fishermen used to live in huts made of wood panels when he first arrived on the isolated island in 1979.

    Yesterday, 613 local residents living off fishing became official residents of Sansha. The ship Qiongzhou III currently serves as the only lifeline sending in supplies like rice, vegetables and medicine from Hainan.

    The ship can take up to 200 passengers. It makes two round trips a month, weather permitting.