China is dredging navigation channels in a disputed area of the South China Sea in a move analysts say shows Beijing's increasingly assertive stance over its claims to sovereignty in the region.
Xinhua reported yesterday that up to 1.7km of channels had been dredged around Drummond Island, known as Jinqing in Chinese.
The island, which is about 0.21 sq km, is one of the disputed Paracel Islands, which China calls the Xisha Islands, which are also claimed by Vietnam, which calls them the Hoang Sa Islands.
Piers for tourist boats and berths for rubbish collection ships and supply vessels would be built in the area in the future, the report said.
"The new passages will help the way fishermen operate and provide them with more convenient living conditions on the islands," Jiang Weiquan, who is a director of the management committee for the islands, said.
A Chinese oil rig operated in near the Paracel Islands for more than two months this summer, sparking anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam in May. There were also a series of clashes between Chinese and Vietnamese vessels in the area.
Xu Liping, an expert on China's relations in Southeast Asia at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Beijing would continue expanding navigation channels, making it easier for law-enforcement vessels to patrol and to move supplies around that area of the South China Sea.
"Some Chinese fishermen have complained that they are harassed by foreign vessels and escorts by law enforcement vessels are needed," Xu said.
Beijing established the town of Sansha on the Paracel Islands two years to administer the Paracel Islands, the disputed Spratly Islands and Macclesfield Bank, which is an undersea atoll.
Wu Shicun , the president of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, said China was stepping up the development of the area.
"The new channels are just a first step," Wu said. "More facilities are needed to ensure more access to vessels."
Zhuang Guotu , the director of the Southeast Asian Studies Centre at Xiamen University, said Beijing was becoming more assertive in showing its sovereignty over the disputed waters through its economic activities and by expanding channels for Chinese shipping.
The Paracels have been occupied by China since 1974, but are claimed by Taipei and Vietnam.
Calls to the Vietnamese government were not returned.