Balancing act for Sansha's new leader

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 July, 2012, 12:00am


The first leader of Sansha, the city that China intends to oversee its sovereignty in the South China Sea, is seen as a man who knows how to balance the island's environmental needs with its development.

Xiao Jie , 51, is the elected mayor of Sansha , the tropical wind-swept home of about 1,000 fishermen and a smattering of government officials on Yongxing island, 350 kilometres southeast of Hainan Island. In an unusual move for Chinese bureaucracy, Xiao has also been named Communist Party secretary.

'It's a great honour to be the first mayor of Sansha, and it's also a new mission, challenge and test for me,' Xiao (pictured) told the city's first People's Congress after it elected him on Monday.

Beijing announced the formal establishment of Sansha the following day, giving China its newest city complete with its own leadership with only about a month of preparation.

The events come as the Philippines and Vietnam intensify efforts to assert control over parts of the potentially oil-rich South China Sea. The State Council has designated that Sansha will administer the Paracel, Macclesfield Bank and Spratly island groups - or Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha as they are known in Chinese - and their surrounding waters.

Manila has refused to recognise the authority of Sansha, while Hanoi has said Beijing has violated international law. China's Defence Ministry said it was considering a presence in the city, Xinhua reported last month.

Xiao, from Leizhou city in Guangdong province, has spent three decades on Hainan. He studied at South China Tropical Crop College, which later merged into the Hainan University. In 1982, he became a lecturer at his alma mater.

After joining the party in 1984, Xiao was promoted to a senior position in Hainan's agricultural department when the island gained province status in 1988. Previously, Hainan was part of Guangdong.

In 1993, Xiao was sent to Beijing's Changping county to receive political experience. Two years later, he returned to Hainan and became deputy head of Chengman county. He was promoted to party chief of the province's scientific and technological department in 2002, and then director of its Agricultural Department. It is rare for a Chinese politician to hold dual roles as mayor and party head, but Qu Xing, president of the China Institute of International Studies, said Sansha might elect a new mayor at next year's People's Congress.

'Xiao is a fit person to head our youngest city. Not only does he have a comprehensive working resume in Hainan, but also once worked in Beijing's Changping county, where he had opportunities to get in touch with the central leadership,' Qu said.

That Beijing experience will help Xiao understand the central leadership's plan with the establishment of Sansha, and his key political tasks.

'The more important thing is, his academic prestige convinces us that he will also be a person who knows how to balance the ecological environment of Sansha and its future development.'

Sansha's jurisdiction covers 13 square kilometres of land but 2 million square kilometres of surrounding water. The Communist Party's mouthpiece, the People's Daily, said Sansha's priority was to defend China's sovereignty in the South China Sea, while the development of agricultural, fishery and tourist industries were a secondary task.

Meanwhile, heading the city's 'legislature' is Fu Zhuang , 56, the deputy director of the provincial Civil Air Defence Office. He was elected director of the standing committee of the Sansha Municipal People's Congress on Monday.

The legislative conference also elected three deputy mayors, head of the city's intermediate people's court and prosecution. It elected another five members of the standing committee of the Sansha Municipal People's Congress, it said.