Civilians Helping Governments Stake Claims in South China Sea


A statement from China that daily civilian charter flights would serve the contested sea off its south coast raises the growing profile of civilians as a tool for governments to bolster their claims in Asia’s most widespread sovereignty dispute.

The launch Thursday of flights from Haikou in southern China to Woody Island in the South China Sea, as reported by Beijing’s state-run Xinhua News Agency, extends Beijing’s broader campaign to build up the surrounding Paracel archipelago with military and other civilian presence.

That expansion has angered rival Paracel claimant Vietnam.

Disputed region

But the flights mark just the latest move among five governments to position civilians in the disputed sea of about 3.5 million square kilometers (1.4 million square miles). China, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines have let nonmilitary people occupy some of the sea’s roughly 500 tiny land features to date.

Civilians on site add credibility to sovereignty claims and deter any designs by one claimant to attack another, analysts say.