MANILA, Philippines - China has started forming the backbone of a local government that will rule over the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, Chinese media announced Tuesday.
State-owned news agency Xinhua said a legislative body's organizing committee has been set up for Sansha, a prefecture-level city of Hainan province that was etablished to govern the Spratlys.
The commitee will organize Sansha's first municipal congress, approve the electoral commission for the election of delegates, and convene the first plenary meeting of the local congress.
The government seat of Sansha will be stationed on Yongxing Island in the Paracels, which are also being claimed by Vietnam.
A formal political-legislative body will ensure the safety of Chinese fishermen and oil and gas extraction operations in the South China Sea, according to Wu Shicun, director of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies.
The Hainan provincial Tourism Development Board also plans to launch tourist cruises from Haikou to the Spratlys by the end of the year.
Acording to Xinhua, Sansha city has more than 200 islets, sandbanks and reefs in the disputed Spratlys, Paracels, and the Macclesfield Bank covering 13 square kilometers in island area and 2 million square kilometers of water.
China is claiming ownership of the resource-rich Spratlys and nearby waters, even areas inside the exclusive economic zone of other countries such as the Philippines and Vietnam.