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City Hall of Sansha
City Hall of Sansha
Sansha is located in South China Sea
Coordinates (Sansha municipal government): 16°49′52″N 112°20′19″E / 16.8310°N 112.3386°E / 16.8310; 112.3386
CountryPeople's Republic of China
Prefecture-level city established24 July 2012[1]
City seatYongxing Island
(Woody Island)
 • CPC Municipal Party SecretaryZhang Jun (张军)
 • MayorAh Dong (阿东)
 • Land<13 km2 (<5 sq mi)
 • Water~2,000,000 km2 (~772,000 sq mi)
 • Total1,443
Time zoneUTC+08:00 (China Standard Time)
Postal code
Territorial Dispute: There are on-going territorial disputes in the entire area covered by the city, whose administrative authority is not internationally recognized.
"Sansha", as written in Chinese
Hanyu PinyinSānshā
Literal meaningthree sands (referring to the Chinese names for the three island groups)

Sansha City (Chinese: 三沙市; pinyin: Sānshā Shì) is a prefecture-level city under the Hainan province of the People's Republic of China (PRC), and is the southernmost and least populated prefecture in China, with the smallest land area but the largest maritime territory.[a] The city's seat is located on Yongxing Island in the South China Sea, and administers (actually or nominally) several island groups, atolls, seamounts and a number of other ungrouped maritime features within the nine-dash line,[3] although the PRC's de facto control over the area varies. The name "Sansha", literally meaning "three sands", refers to the three archipelago districts of Xisha (Chinese: 西沙; lit. 'west sand'), Zhongsha (Chinese: 中沙; lit. 'central sand') and Nansha (Chinese: 南沙; lit. 'south sand').

Sansha was created on 24 July 2012,[4] and administers a group of 260 islands, reefs and beaches located in the Spratly Islands (Nansha), Paracel Islands (Xisha), and Macclesfield Bank (Zhongsha Islands).[5] Reports in the China Daily stated that the establishment of Sansha was simply an upgrade of its administrative status from the previous county-level administration to prefecture-level.[3] Subsequent developments have turned Sansha City (located on Xisha District's Yongxing Island) into a small town with over 1,400 residents, with a dual-use airport that has a 2,700 metres (3,000 yd) runway and two artificial harbors capable of docking sea vessels up to 5,000 tonnes.[6][7]

Due to territorial disputes in the South China Sea,[8][9] foreign reaction to the city's establishment was not positive. The United States Department of State called the change in the administrative status "unilateral", and the move has received criticism from nations engaged in the South China Sea dispute, particularly the Philippines as well as Vietnam and the Republic of China (ROC, Taiwan), which claims the island.[10]

Recent history

Yongxing Town on Woody Island

In March 1953, as talks were proceeding with the French on the handing over of Hainan and territories south of Guangdong to the People's Republic of China, the Chinese State Council authorized the establishment of a separate "Guangdong Province Paracels, Spratlys, and Zhongsha Islands Authority" as a county-level administrative division on Woody Island (Yongxing Dao). However, the island continued to support a threadbare population of fisherfolk at that time.[11] In March 1959, this authority was upgraded to an administrative office in the name of "Guangdong Province Paracels, Spratlys, and Zhongsha Islands Revolutionary Committee".[11] In October 1984, the administration of Sansha consisting of Yongxing Dao (Woody Island) and other islands in the South China sea was transferred to Hainan. This coincided with the establishment of Hainan as a separate administrative region. In September 1988, the authority's name was officially changed to the "Hainan Province Paracels, Spratlys, and Zhongsha Islands Authority". On 25 December 2006, Woody Island 'census-town's' first-ever "Residents' and Fishermen's Congress" was held. Three representatives at the township and village levels were selected to represent the census-town's Neighborhood Committee of the North and South Villages. The Neighborhood Committee began work on Woody Island the following day with an office at the Border Guards of the Paracels' Police Station. These were the first ever actual subdivisions created within the county-level authority.[11]

The prospect of the establishment of a "city" on Woody Island was first publicized on 19 November 2007 in a report by Mingpao, a Hong Kong-based newspaper, through a telephone interview with a Mr. Zhang of the Propaganda Department of Wenchang, Hainan. This report claimed that a county-level city was to be established by the PRC State Council in November 2007 to administer three disputed archipelagos in the South China Sea:[12] the Paracel Islands, Macclesfield Bank (Zhongsha Islands) and the Spratly Islands. This was to replace the county-level "Paracels, Spratlys, and Zhongsha Islands Authority". The city of Wenchang would provide[vague] supplies and logistics to the to-be-established city.

On 23 July 2012, the PRC Central Military Commission announced it had authorized the People's Liberation Army Guangzhou Military Command to form a "garrison command" in Sansha City. The troops would be responsible for managing the city's national defence mobilisation, military reserve, and carrying out military operations.[13]

On 24 July 2012, the PRC officially established the city of Sansha in Yongxing Island.[4]

Administrative divisions

Sansha City has two districts, Xisha District and Nansha District. Xisha District administers the Xisha and Zhongsha Islands and their surrounding waters, with the district government located on Yongxing Town. Nansha District administers the Nansha Islands and their surrounding waters, with the district government located on Yongshu Jiao.

Sansha is governed by a municipal congress of 60 delegates directly elected, with a standing committee of 15 members.[14] It is further subdivided into 2 districts at county-level, 3 towns/management committees at the township-level, and further into 11 residential communities at village-level, based on the island groups:

Division code[15]
County-level divisions
Township-level divisions Village-level divisions
Location of the major islands in Sansha

BlackYongxing Island (seat of Sansha)
RedChigua Reef
GreenDongmen Reef
Yellow:Huangyan Island
RedHuayang Reef
BlueMeiji Reef
BlueNanxun Reef
BlackZhongjian Island
GreenYongshu Reef

PurpleZhubi Reef
Xisha District
Xīshā Qū
District seat: Yongxing town MA
Yongxing Town Management Area
Yǒngxìng Zhèn Guǎnlǐqū
Yongxing Residential Community 永兴社区 Yǒngxìng Shèqū
Yingqu Residential Community 营区社区 Yíngqū Shèqū
Qilianyu Management Area
Qīliányǔ Guǎnlǐqū
Beidao Residential Community 北岛社区 Běidǎo Shèqū
Zhaoshu Residential Community 赵述社区 Zhàoshù Shèqū
Yonglequndao Management Area
Yǒnglè Qúndǎo Guǎnlǐqū
Jinqing Residential Community 晋卿社区 Jìnqīng Shèqū
Yinyu Residential Community 银屿社区 Yínyǔ Shèqū
Lingyang Residential Community 羚羊社区 Língyáng Shèqū
Ganquan Residential Community 甘泉社区 Gānquán Shèqū
Yagong Residential Community 鸭公社区 Yāgōng Shèqū
(under Xisha) Zhongsha Islands
Zhōngshā Qúndǎo De Dǎojiāo Jíqí Hǎiyù
District seat: Huangyan
(under Xisha) Huangyan 黄岩 Huángyán
(under Xisha) Zhongsha Bank 中沙大环礁 Zhōngshā Dàhuán Jiāo
Nansha District
Nánshā Qū
District seat: Nansha MA
Nansha Management Area
Nánshā Guǎnlǐqū
Yongshu Residential Community 永暑社区 Yǒngshǔ Shèqū
(under Yongshu) Meiji 美济 Měijì
(under Yongshu) Zhubi 渚碧 Zhǔbì
(under Yongshu) Huangyang 华阳 Huángyáng
(under Yongshu) Chigua 赤瓜 Chìguā
(under Yongshu) Nanxun 南薰 Nánxūn
(under Yongshu) Dongmen 东门 Dōngmén


Climate data for Sansha (Xisha District, 1991–2020 normals)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Mean daily maximum °C (°F) 26.4
Daily mean °C (°F) 23.8
Mean daily minimum °C (°F) 22.3
Average precipitation mm (inches) 18.3
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.1 mm) 7.8 4.6 3.5 4.7 8.0 9.1 10.3 12.1 15.1 17.0 13.8 13.8 119.8
Average relative humidity (%) 78 80 79 79 80 81 82 82 82 80 80 79 80
Mean monthly sunshine hours 198.3 210.1 260.2 269.9 277.6 256.6 251.0 238.3 210.8 207.3 175.1 149.0 2,704.2
Percent possible sunshine 57 64 70 72 69 65 63 61 58 57 52 43 61
Source: China Meteorological Administration[17][18]
Climate data for Sansha (Shanhu), (1991–2020 normals)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Mean daily maximum °C (°F) 26.8
Daily mean °C (°F) 23.9
Mean daily minimum °C (°F) 22.2
Average precipitation mm (inches) 22.7
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.1 mm) 8.7 5.3 4.1 4.8 7.6 7.3 9.1 10.1 14.3 16.3 14.3 14.5 116.4
Average relative humidity (%) 80 82 82 82 83 83 84 86 86 84 84 81 83
Source: China Meteorological Administration[17][19]

Industries and facilities

The Sansha city has a registered population of 621 (as per 2020)[20] and a resident population of around 1,800, in addition to an unknown number of military garrison personnels. They tend to practice fishing, and selling products to the occasional cruise ship (MV Qionghai 3 and MV Sansha 1) whose tourists visit the island. In November 2016, the Hainan government started to allow large companies to register themselves in Sansha, by providing extensive tax benefits to them. This resulted in 157 large national and multinational companies registering themselves in Sansha.[21]

In 2016, a government school and a public library were opened in the island, primarily for children of the islanders.[22][23] In the same year, a desalinating plant was established to provide drinking water to the island's residents.[24]

Airports are built on several islands under Sansha City, including Yongxing Island, Meiji Island, Yongshu Island and Zhubi Island, all of which have runways longer than 2,700 metres (3,000 yd) and are suitable for planes sizing up to 4E standards, theoretically capable of landing Boeing 777s as diversion airports. In practice, only the Yongxing Island Airport see scheduled commercial services, onboard Boeing 737 operated by Hainan Airlines.[25] The other airports are for military use only.


"Greening the islands"

The second stage of a greening project for Sansha was announced on 30 June 2014.[26] It states: "According to the investment plan, 18 million yuan (about 2.92 million U.S. dollars) will be used to build desalination systems and grow trees on Xishazhou Island (West Sand - NW Crescent Group) in the hope of turning the island into a new oasis." The article makes references to the greening of:

  • Ganquan Island (Robert Island) - W Crescent Group between Antelope Reef and Pattle Island, where an environmental protection station was set up in February 2014
  • Jinqin (Drummond Island) - E Crescent Group
  • Lingyangjiao (Antelope Reef) - W Crescent Group between Money and Robert Islands
  • Xishazhou Island (West Sand) - NW Crescent Group
  • Yagong Island - NE Crescent Group, between Tree Island and Observation Bank
  • Yinyu (Observation Bank / Silver Islet) - NE Crescent Group
  • Yongxing Island (Woody Island) - Centre of Amphitrite group
  • Zhaoshu (Tree Island) - N Crescent Group

It also mentions substantial infrastructure upgrades to Woody Island, including waste-water treatment, garbage aggregation and treatment, desalination (1 million litres/day) and upgrades to photovoltaic equipment.

Controversy and protests

Because Sansha's jurisdiction comprises island groups that several nations besides the PRC claim as their own, the "city" is considered by some as controversial.

In 2007, the Foreign Ministry of Vietnam protested against the city's proposed establishment, which had been recently[27] approved by the PRC's State Council, as Vietnam claims two of the three island groups that comprise Sansha.[28] This was later followed by student demonstrations at the Chinese embassy in Hanoi, and at a consulate in Ho Chi Minh City.[29]

Days prior to the official establishment of the city in late July 2012,[4] Vietnam again stated its opposition and was joined in its protests by the Philippines.[30] The United States Department of State also weighed in on the issue stating, "we remain concerned should there be any unilateral moves of this kind that would seem to prejudge an issue."[31] The chair of the US Senate Foreign Relations East Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee, Jim Webb, also made a statement regarding Sansha and questioned whether the city's creation was a violation of international law.[32] While Senator Webb stated that the establishment of Sansha was China "creating a governmental system out of nothing",[32] the Chinese government has included the island groups that comprise Sansha in its administrative structure since 1959.[33] Before these island groups were under the nominal administration of Sansha, they were nominally administered by an administrative office under the provincial government of Hainan.[34]

Western reaction to the 2012 declaration of the Chinese government elevating the administrative status of Sansha was not positive. The United States Department of State called the change in the administrative status of the territory "unilateral", and the move has received criticism from nations engaged in the South China Sea dispute, particularly the Philippines and Vietnam.[10]

The centre of government for Sansha is located on Woody Island (Yongxing Dao) in the Paracels,[34] where about 1,000 Chinese (PRC) reside.[7] With a land area of 210ha, Woody Island is the largest contiguous land area in the South China Sea.[35] The total land area of Sansha, which includes the islands in the Paracel and Spratly groups, is less than 5 square miles (13 km2).[36] Nationally, Sansha is the smallest prefecture-level city, by both population and land area, but the largest by total area,[37] and is also the southernmost prefecture-level city of the PRC.

By January 2016, work was well advanced on developing a military base with a large harbour and a 2,644 metres (8,675 ft) runway, with the reclaimed land covering 558 hectares (1,380 acres).[38] A civilian test flight to the runway was conducted by a China Southern Airlines passenger jet on 13 July 2016.[39] On 16 February 2016, the New York Times reported that China had deployed HQ‑9 surface‑to‑air missiles on the island.[40]

In late 2016, photographs emerged which suggested that Mischief Reef was armed with anti-aircraft weapons and a CIWS missile-defence system.[41] In May 2018, 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.

See also


  1. ^ Taipei, on the island of Taiwan, is slightly the smallest prefectural city by land area claimed by the PRC, but Taipei is administered by the Republic of China (ROC) as its special municipality.


  1. ^ "South China's Sansha City boasts improved infrastructure". Xinhua. 11 March 2016. Retrieved 1 June 2018.[dead link]
  2. ^ 三沙概览. (in Simplified Chinese). Government of Sansha. Archived from the original on 31 January 2019. Retrieved 13 March 2015. not including the floating population of 2,000 and more; only residents are counted
  3. ^ a b "China sets up Sansha City to administer South China Sea islands". Sina. 21 June 2012. Retrieved 21 June 2012.
  4. ^ a b c "China establishes Sansha City". Xinhua. 24 July 2012. Archived from the original on 24 July 2012. Retrieved 24 July 2012.
  5. ^ "Sansha Travel Guide". Travel China. Retrieved 31 May 2018.
  6. ^ "Sansha garrison". China Daily. 7 July 2012. Retrieved 15 August 2012.
  7. ^ a b Lague, David (25 July 2012). "China's hawks gaining sway in South China sea dispute". Reuters. Hong Kong. Retrieved 7 August 2012.
  8. ^ Wong, Hiufu. "China to open disputed islands to tourism". CNN. Retrieved 18 July 2015.
  9. ^ "China Declares New 'City' On Tiny, Remote Island". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 18 July 2015.
  10. ^ a b *"Philippines Slams China's Establishment of Sansha City in South China Sea". VOA. 23 July 2012. Retrieved 9 December 2014.
  11. ^ a b c "China's Jurisdiction over the South China Sea". Beijing Review.
  12. ^ "Vietnam, China: The Dispute over Significant Waterways". Free Intelligence Reports. Stratfor. 4 December 2007. Retrieved 8 December 2007.[dead link]
  13. ^ "China approves military garrison for disputed islands". BBC News. 23 July 2012. Retrieved 18 May 2020.
  14. ^ "Sansha government". Xinhua Net. 17 July 2012. Archived from the original on 29 July 2012. Retrieved 8 August 2012.
  15. ^ 2013国家统计局统计用区划代码. National Bureau of Statistics of the PRC, 2013. 2013.
  16. ^ "民政部关于国务院批准海南省三沙市设立市辖区的公告-中华人民共和国民政部". Retrieved 26 July 2020.
  17. ^ a b 中国气象数据网 – WeatherBk Data (in Simplified Chinese). China Meteorological Administration. Retrieved 10 October 2023.
  18. ^ 中国气象数据网 (in Simplified Chinese). China Meteorological Administration. Retrieved 10 October 2023.
  19. ^ 中国气象数据网 (in Simplified Chinese). China Meteorological Administration. Retrieved 10 October 2023.
  20. ^ "市情_三沙市人民政府网".
  21. ^ "China's Sansha Island draws world's largest companies". Xinhua. 24 November 2016. Archived from the original on 4 November 2018. Retrieved 1 June 2018.
  22. ^ "China's southernmost school opens inc". Xinhua. 2 November 2016. Retrieved 1 June 2018.[dead link]
  23. ^ "First library opened in Sansha in South China Sea". Xinhua. 21 April 2016. Retrieved 1 June 2018.[dead link]
  24. ^ "New desalinator put into use in China's Sansha". Xinhua. 2 November 2016. Retrieved 1 June 2018.[dead link]
  25. ^ Flightradar24. "Live Flight Tracker - Real-Time Flight Tracker Map". Flightradar24. Retrieved 28 March 2019.((cite web)): CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  26. ^ "China Focus: South China islands see green transformation". 30 July 2014. Archived from the original on 13 September 2014. Retrieved 13 September 2014.
  27. ^ "Hà Nội và Sài Gòn biểu tình chống Trung Quốc" (in Vietnamese). Đài Á Châu Tự do. Retrieved 18 July 2015.
  28. ^ "Vietnam objects to China's establishment of San Sha city on the Hainan Island". Ministry of Foreign Affairs' spokesman Mr. Le Dzung answers questions on 3 December 2007. Vietnam Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 3 December 2007. Retrieved 7 August 2012.
  29. ^ Symon, Andrew (20 December 2007). "China, Vietnam churn diplomatic waters". Asia Times Online. Archived from the original on 13 May 2008. Retrieved 7 August 2012.((cite news)): CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  30. ^
  31. ^ "Victoria Nuland, Spokesperson: Daily Press Briefing, Washington, DC, July 24, 2012". United States Department of State. 24 July 2012. Retrieved 27 July 2012.
  32. ^ a b "Senator Webb: China's military and governmental expansion into South China Sea might be a "Violation of International Law"". United States Senate. 25 July 2012. Archived from the original on 15 December 2012. Retrieved 27 July 2012.
  33. ^ "China opposes US statement on S. China Sea". CCTV. 5 August 2012. Retrieved 7 August 2012.
  34. ^ a b Stirring up the South China Sea (II): Regional responses. Asia Report N°229. International Crisis Group. July 2012. p. 5. Retrieved 7 August 2012.
  35. ^ Pratas Island has an area of 240ha, but this includes a 60ha lagoon.
  36. ^ USA Today, Tiny island in South China Sea is stirring up tensions, Calum MacLeod, 12 July 2012
  37. ^ Alexa Olesen (Associated Press) (24 July 2012). "China dubs tiny island new city in sea claim bid". Retrieved 24 July 2012.[dead link]
  38. ^ "Airstrips near Completion". Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative. January 2016. Retrieved 30 January 2016.
  39. ^ "China conducts test flights on two new airports on Nansha Islands". Xinhua. Archived from the original on 14 July 2016. Retrieved 14 July 2016.
  40. ^ Forsythe, Michael; Soble, Jonathan; Landler, Mark; Huang, Yufan; Li, Mia (17 February 2016). "Missiles Deployed on Disputed South China Sea Island, Officials Say". The New York Times. p. A6. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 18 February 2016.
  41. ^ "China's New Spratly Island Defenses". Center for Strategic and International Studies. 13 December 2016. Retrieved 17 December 2016.
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