Chinese tourists hold flag-raising ceremony on disputed island in South China Sea
- More than 100 visitors wave flags, sing along to national anthem and chant slogans such as ‘long live China’ during event on Yagong Island
More than 100 Chinese tourists took part in a flag-raising ceremony on one of the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, according to mainland media.
The gathering took place over the weekend on Yagong Island, located between Vietnam’s northeast coast and Hainan Island, China’s southernmost province, Shanghai-based news site Thepaper.cn reported on Monday.
Video footage of the ceremony shows a group of Chinese visitors carrying flags and singing along to the Chinese national anthem, and chanting nationalistic slogans such as “long live China”.
“Here I feel that we look very dignified and solemn, because it is the motherland’s most southern point. I have always felt in my heart that I would come to this place,” tourist Deng Runping told the news website.
“Finally my dream was fulfilled, and I feel very proud to be standing here looking at the Chinese flag.”
The tiny island, known in Vietnam as Dao Ba Ba, has an area of just 1 hectare. It was occupied by China after a battle with South Vietnam in 1974 and has a population under 100, mostly fishermen.
In recent years, China has ramped up efforts to increase its presence on the Paracel archipelago, which is also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.
Beijing’s island building in the South China Sea, which includes adding military fortifications in the Paracels and Spratlys, has also caused international concern. In May, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a US think tank, said satellite images showed China had deployed new military weapon platforms to Woody Island, the largest of the Paracels.
China shipped over more than 100 tonnes of soil, 200 tonnes of fresh water and 400 trees to Yagong Island in 2013 as part of its “green transformation” to make the Paracel chain more habitable. Beijing is also trying to make Yagong Island a patriotic tourist destination and, also in 2013, set up a regular cruise line from Sanya in Hainan bringing tourists and groceries to the island.
The Paracels are surrounded by productive fishing grounds as well as potential oil and gas reserves.
Adam Ni, a policy researcher at the Australian National University’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, said the flag-raising ceremony would likely fuel nationalistic sentiment in China.
“They clearly had tacit support from the Chinese government. Chinese state media is likely to use this material for nationalistic propaganda,” Ni said. “The Chinese government, by stoking nationalism, can put itself into a better negotiating position on international disputes, such as in the South China Sea.”
But Greg Raymond, also from the ANU centre, did not see the ceremony as particularly provocative given that the Paracels have been controlled by China for some time.
“When looking at the backdrop of China developing the islands, installing garrisons and troop facilities, these are already a potent expression of ownership and nationalism,” he said.