BEIJING - China has appointed military officers at a newly-established garrison in the South China Sea, state media reported Friday, the country's latest step to bolster claims to disputed islands in the area.
The defence ministry announced the appointments Thursday, the China Daily said, two days after China said it had established the city of Sansha on an island in the area, along with the military garrison.
Appointed were Senior Colonel Cai Xihong as the garrison's commander and Senior Colonel Liao Chaoyi as its political commissar, China Daily reported, quoting ministry spokesman Yang Yujun.
Yang said that the garrison has responsibility for defence mobilisation, guarding the city and disaster relief, among other functions.
However, he added that a separate maritime garrison under the Chinese navy was responsible for maritime defence and military combat, appearing to suggest that the Sansha garrison would not have such responsibilities.
"Whether a military establishment has combat forces or not depends on its military tasks," he said, according to China Daily.
Vietnam and the Philippines condemned China's decision earlier this week to set up the garrison, with Hanoi on Tuesday filing a formal protest and Manila lodging a complaint with China's ambassador.
Yang said how China deploys its military within its own borders is irrelevant to other countries, China Daily said.
The city of Sansha lies on the island of Yongxing in the disputed Paracel Islands. The region is also north of the Spratly Islands, which are also subject to rival claims.
China says it owns much of the South China Sea, though Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia each claim portions of it.
The dispute has simmered for decades, though tensions have risen markedly recently as China has moved to more strongly assert its territorial claims.
The Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) at a summit earlier this month failed for the first time in 45 years to issue a joint statement, as members were unable to agree how to refer to China's behaviour in the disputed waters.
China says it is acting within its rights, though its moves have raised alarm bells in the region and beyond.
Beijing is also involved in a separate dispute with Japan over islands in the East China Sea.
China is seen as unlikely to alter its stance, despite growing international criticism.
"China will certainly continue reinforcing its political and military control over Sansha as it has drawn lessons from maritime disputes in the past," Zhang Zhexin, a US studies expert with the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, was quoted by China Daily as saying.
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