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Island city of Sansha developing rapidly

2014-07-07 09:49 Global Times Web Editor: Li Yan
Construction equipment is shipped to the booming city of Sansha, Hainan province. Photo: Wang Zhefeng/GT

Construction equipment is shipped to the booming city of Sansha, Hainan province. Photo: Wang Zhefeng/GT

It was 8:30 in the morning. After 15 hours of sailing on the South China Sea, the Qiongsha 3, a 2500-ton supply ship, was just arriving at Yongxing Island, where Sansha, the youngest city of South China's Hainan province, is located.

People Liberation Army(PLA) Sergeant Meng Guochao had just completed his vacation and was taking the ship to go back to his troops, stationed on the island. Also on board were workers from the Hubei Jiangtian Construction Group Ltd, who were heading to the island for a construction project.

"The army and the civilians are integrated and are making joint efforts to build a beautiful Sansha," read the conspicuous slogan at the port, welcoming the passengers traveling from Wenchang to Sansha.

Sansha is the youngest city in China. On June 21, 2012, the State Council approved the revocation of the Xisha, Nansha, Zhongsha office and set up the prefecture-level city of Sansha, administrated by Hainan province, and it was officially set up on July 24.

Located 2,680 kilometers from Beijing, the city's special geographical location is what has put Sansha under the spotlight.

A growing city

According to the Sansha government website, the islands included in the Sansha region constitute about 10 square kilometers and a sea area of over 2 million square kilometers. By December 2013, the city's population surpassed 3,400, mainly consisting of soldiers, fishermen, government civil servants and migrant workers. Yongxing Island is the biggest island in the South China Sea. For years, the official area remained at 2.13 square kilometers, according to Xiao Jie, the Party Secretary and mayor of Sansha.

But recently, the area rose to more than 2.6 square kilometers, a PLA navy officer said, "and it continues to get bigger." The growing city is partly the result of sea reclamation which contributed to the construction of a military runway. The airport is still being expanded to accommodate larger aircraft.

Unlike other seashores, it's hard to enjoy the beautiful scenery of the beaches of Sansha. Instead, big engineering ships are seen berthing and a great number of building materials and heavy cranes stand on them. Booming noises caused by their operation almost completely drown out the sound of the waves.

Among the hundreds of islands in the South China Sea, only a few are controlled by China and territorial disputes keep haunting the region, including Sansha, which is located not far from the Philippines and Vietnam.

Liu Huayun, a radar operator, said that there were hundreds of airplanes flying across the South China Sea. When the weather is fair, American scout patrols soar over the free seas almost every day.

"The establishment of Sansha city released a signal to the international society that China would be more confident in dealing with South China Sea affairs and showed the strategic importance of this area. For us soldiers, to some extent, we have to assume a heavier responsibility for defending our country."

Promising job market

"For ordinary people, life on the island used to be cozy. In the past, residents would just take slow walks after lunch. But now, they immediately devote themselves to work," Li Daning, an executive secretary at South China Sea Institute of Oceanology, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), said.

Upon graduation, Li was assigned by CAS to the ocean science experiment station on the island.

"Few people knew this place. So people working here had no prospects and just killed time. But now Sansha is famous in China, and even internationally. The country is paying a lot of attention to the place and we can feel it. They think it's an opportunity so they want to be involved in the development of Sansha," Li said.

Like other cities, migrant workers represent a big part of the population in Sansha. The city's diverse construction projects need workers and the demand draws people from different parts of China.

A station officer surnamed Chen at the port of Sansha said that there have been longer working hours at the desalinization plant over the past two years, which is responsible for the fresh water supply of Sansha.

"It used to operate from 8 am to 6 pm but now they work from 7 am to 10 pm," Chen said, adding that the salary, which came with high subsidies, is much higher than in Haikou.

Life on the island

During the past two years, many infrastructure projects like the Sansha People's Hospital and the Sansha branch of the National Library of China have been built. There is an empty site waiting for construction of the Yongxing Island School, the first school to be built for children of kindergarten or primary school age.

A commercial street was built at the end of 2013, where residents can buy drinks, cakes, fruit and seafood. In local people's eyes, it has been compared to the busy commercial areas in Beijing. On the island street, a cup of coffee can be sold for as much as 30 yuan($4.8).

Diesel power generation and solar power projects have been built on Yongxing Island to solve the long-existing power supply problem. Far away from the Chinese mainland, China Mobile and China Telecom guaranteed full mobile phone signal for residents to connect with their families and friends.

Still, accommodation remains one of the biggest restrictions at Sansha. For most Sansha government departments, only those working on duty are sent to Yongxing Island, while others remain working in Haikou, the capital of Hainan.

Presently, there is the Xisha Hotel, which charges 580 yuan for one night. The receptionist told the Global Times that usually they are not open to the public, but only to officials who come to Sansha to do investigations.

Workers at Sansha usually work and live in the same building. "The first floor is our office and the second is our dorm," local employee Chen Rong told the Global Times.

Transportation is another huge concern. Although the Qiongsha 3 ship has improved the frequency of its runs from once every 20 days to once a week, there are still more who need to take the ship, which has a limited capacity of 198 bunks.

Fortunately, at the end of this year, a new ferry, the Sansha 1, will be completed and go into service. The captain of the Qiongsha 3, Huang Xinfang, said that his ship will not retire, instead, the two will function together to further facilitate the transportation between the mainland and the faraway city of Sansha.

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