Hanoi has rebuked Beijing in the latest escalation tensions in the disputed sea, this time over the construction of a movie theatre on Woody island, China’s administrative hub in the maritime region
China has asserted its claim to disputed areas of the South China Sea in various ways – creating islands, building military infrastructure and selling oil drilling rights. Now it has drawn rebuke with the construction of a cinema on an island also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.
“The cinema will show at least one film every day, so residents and soldiers on Yongxing Island can enjoy films simultaneously with moviegoers across the country,” said Gu Xiaojing, general manager of Hainan Media Group, which built the theatre complex, according to a report from Chinese state media outlet Xinhua.
Vietnam on Tuesday issued a statement condemning China for building a state-of-the art movie theatre on Woody island (which has different names in various languages), the largest of the Paracel islands.
“That action by China has infringed Vietnam’s sovereignty over Hoàng Sa Archipelago, violated international law and cannot alter Vietnam’s sovereignty over this archipelago,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said, referring to the Paracels, according to the BBC.
“Vietnam opposes it and demands that China not repeat similar actions.”
The latest dispute comes just weeks after tensions were heightened in the South China Sea when Vietnam sold the drilling rights to an area containing at least one major gas field to a Spanish oil company while China sold the same rights to a Hong Kong company.
Within weeks, China threatened to invade Vietnam’s bases in the Spratly islands, another hotly contested enclave, and cancelled a scheduled friendship meeting at the China-Vietnam border. Vietnam eventually conceded their drilling rights in the face of an impending conflict.
While the construction of a cinema looks unlikely to cause the same diplomatic tension, it is widely viewed as yet another attempt by China to solidify its claim to the island, which falls within a broad swath of sea that is believed to be rich in oil and remains the world’s most trafficked shipping route.
The theatre is just the latest move by China on Woody island, where in 2012 it founded a community called Sansha that received prefecture-level city status from China despite having a population that is thought to be about a couple thousand.
In addition to the latest movie theatre, China has built a school, hospital and airport in the so-called city, which serves as Beijing’s administrative hub in the sea, and expanded mobile coverage to the island’s population, which consists mainly of fishermen, construction workers and soldiers.
Sansha’s mayor, Xiao Jie, has said more construction and amenities are to come.
“We will build wedding halls and diving facilities, and aim to create resorts comparable to those on the Maldives in the Indian Ocean,” Xiao Jie has said, according to Japan Times.