Paracel Islands

Reshuffle linked to islands dispute

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 July, 2012, 12:00am


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The People's Liberation Army has announced major reshuffles within the military units in Hainan province that oversee disputed South China Sea islets.

China News Service reported yesterday on four senior appointments, naming the officers but not giving any details about them, including their rank. Liu Xin was named the province's new political commissar, succeeding Liu Dingxing, who is due to retire. Also replaced were the provincial army's deputy commander, deputy political commissar and the head of the political department.

Speaking yesterday at a military assembly, where the reshuffle was announced, Lieutenant General Xu Fenlin, commander of the Guangzhou Military Command which oversees Hainan, told the provincial military region to be prepared for new developments in the disputed waters.

'Hainan province has an important role to play in the development and strategic security of the nation,' Xu said. 'And this role is becoming more prominent as its mission and situation changes. The provincial military region should make solid preparations for military conflicts to fulfil the missions bestowed upon it by the party and people.'

Hainan's Communist Party boss, Luo Baoming, said at the assembly that the province faced 'unprecedented responsibility and pressure' in defending China's sovereignty in the South China Sea, following the establishment last month of Sansha city to oversee the disputed Spratly and Paracel Islands and Macclesfield Bank.

The appointments followed the transfer of Vice Admiral Wang Dengping, previously the political commissar of the North Sea Fleet, to oversee the fleet that patrols the South China Sea.

Military analysts believed the new appointments to be an indication that the military was preparing to take a tougher stance.

'China is gearing up for military confrontations over the South China Sea dispute. It is routine for the military to make personnel reshuffles ahead of conflicts. It needs to be prepared,' Shanghai-based military analyst Ni Lexiong said.

Antony Wong Dong, president of the Macau-based International Military Association, said the military had been strengthening its capabilities in Hainan since 2001, after a collision between a US surveillance plane and a PLA jet fighter in the province.

But he said the situation facing Hainan was becoming more complicated, as nations that had no claims over the South China Sea, such as India, were beginning oil exploration in the waters.

Meanwhile, the Global Times newspaper reported that a detention centre was being built in Sansha in order to hold foreign fisherman who trespass in Chinese waters.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said he was not aware of the plan, but added that the city government could take relevant measures within its mandate.

Du Jifeng, an expert in Southeast Asian affairs with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the construction of the detention centre was part of a concerted effort by authorities to display sovereignty over the disputed waters.

China is gearing up for military confrontations over the South China Sea dispute Analyst Ni Lexiong