Not famed for a great track record when it comes to environmental concerns, the People’s Republic of China embarked on an unlikely environmental mission earlier this week, in a plan to bolster the sensitive ecology of the disputed Paracel Islands.
Chinese Marine Surveillance (CMS) troops were deployed to the region in order to complete a nine-day observation patrol, calling in at each and every one of the 29 part island archipelago. Consisting of three CMS ships and a helicopter squad, the dramatic detachment evaluated a series of environmental criteria during the tour, paying particular attention to maritime space management, marine ecology and island protection.
Upon his return in the southern province of Hainan, four days ahead of schedule, mission commander Zhang Weijian, was able to proclaim the deployment as a success, with law enforcement personnel required to set foot on only 10 of the 29 island chain. In an interview with china.org.cn Zhang announced that the archipelago’s biggest threat comes in the form of temporary fishing settlements – a positive result indeed. But is this action really all that it seems?
Located approximately 200 miles of the coast of Vietnam, the Paracel group has been the source of geo-political controversy since the early 20th century, with both Chinese and Vietnamese authorities claiming sovereignty over the tiny island chain. Known as the Xisha Islands in the People’s Republic and the Hoang Sa Islands in Vietnam, tensions in the region came to a head in 1974 with the bloody Battle of the Paracel Islands, in which close to 100 people lost their lives.
Tensions between the Chinese and Vietnamese exist to this day, and, with the territorial unrest with Japan escalating on a daily basis, there is a growing feeling of disquiet amongst Vietnamese officials that a similar situation to the Senkaku / Diaoyu dispute could arise within the Paracel archipelago. With the international community hoping China’s intentions are as innocent as they first appear; only time will tell whether this environmental mission is, in fact, a precursor to further confrontation.
Further information: http://www.china.org.cn/china/2013-03/14/content_28247303.htm