BEIJING, July 27 (UPI) -- The Chinese military announced the establishment of a garrison in its newly created Sansha City, raising U.S. concerns about tensions in the South China Sea.
In announcing the establishment of the Sansha military garrison and appointment of "major officers" Thursday, the Chinese National Defense Ministry said such steps "in its own territory are irrelevant to other countries," China Daily reported.
China's formation of Sansha and other steps it has taken recently are designed to strengthen its claims on disputed islands in the South China Sea. China says Sansha, a prefectural-level city in south China's Hainan province, was formed to administer the Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha Islands and the surrounding waters in the South China Sea.
The islands are Chinese names for the resource-rich Spratlys, the Paracels and the Macclesfield Bank islands group in the South China Sea, seen as vital for international trade and shipping. The islands are also claimed by some of the countries neighboring China including Vietnam and the Philippines.
Sansha would govern the island groups as well as 2 million square kilometers of the South China Sea over which China claims jurisdiction.
China Daily reported Senior Col. Cai Xihong was appointed as Sansha's garrison's commander, and Senior Col. Liao Chaoyi the garrison's political commissar.
The newspaper quoted analysts as saying China will further strengthen control over Sansha to ensure its lawful interests and rights amid maritime disputes.
A defense ministry spokesman said the military garrison would be responsible for defense mobilization, militia reserves, the relationship between the garrison and local government as well as guarding the city and disaster relief.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman told the official Xinhua news agency Beijing will adhere to its insistence on direct bilateral negotiations between related parties to resolve the South China Sea issue.
Instead of a bilateral approach, the United States, whose foreign policy is focusing more in the Asia-Pacific region, prefers a multilateral approach.
In Washington Thursday, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, commenting on the military garrison, said, "Well, again, we are continuing to hope and press for all the parties to work together on a code of conduct on some diplomatic resolution to this.
"As we said earlier in the week, we are concerned by unilateral moves. This is exactly the kind of thing that (U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) spoke out against, any effort to decide this unilaterally by force -- economic force, military force, etc."
Nuland said Washington will continue to talk to Beijing and other countries in the region, adding such issues need to be handled within international law and within the terms of the Law of the Sea Treaty.