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Woody Island (South China Sea)

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Woody Island, also called Yongxing Island (simplified Chinese: 永兴岛; traditional Chinese: 永興島; pinyin: Yǒngxīng Dǎo; literally: 'Eternal Prosperity Island') in People's Republic of China (PRC) and Phu Lam Island (Vietnamese: Đảo Phú Lâm) in Vietnam, is the largest of the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea (SCS), with an area of 2.1 square kilometres (0.81 sq mi).[2] It has a population of more than 1,000 people, with roads, banks and a "small" (as defined by the FAA and ICAO) air strip.[3][4][5][6] The Paracel Islands are a group of islands, reefs, banks and atolls in the northwestern part of the South China Sea. Woody Island is part of the Amphitrite Group in the eastern Paracels and is approximately equidistant from Hainan and the Vietnam coast.

Woody Island

Yongxing Island,
Phú Lâm Island
Aerial view of Woody and Rocky Islands
Aerial view of Woody and Rocky Islands
Woody Island is located in South China Sea
Woody Island
Woody Island
Coordinates: 16°50′3″N 112°20′15″E / 16.83417°N 112.33750°E / 16.83417; 112.33750Coordinates: 16°50′3″N 112°20′15″E / 16.83417°N 112.33750°E / 16.83417; 112.33750
CountryChina (PRC)
County-level divisionXisha District
 • TypeTown
 • BodyYongxingdao Town Government
 • Total2.6 km2 (1.0 sq mi)
 • Length1.850 km (1.150 mi)
 • Width1.160 km (0.721 mi)
 • Total1,443[1]
 • Chinese100%
 • Chinese100%
Time zoneUTC+8 (China)
Post code
Dialing code+86 0898

The island has been under the control of the People's Republic of China since 1956. It is administered by Sansha, a town located on the island.[7]

It is disputed territory and is also claimed by the Republic of China (Taiwan) and Vietnam.



The Chinese Qing dynasty, France (on behalf of Annam), Japan, and the Republic of China had all established a presence on the island at various points of time in history.[8] Fishing activities in the South China Sea region surrounding the island have been documented in the records of earlier Chinese dynasties. During the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), Zheng He plotted the location of surrounding islands on a map, but never landed on it.[9]

In 1909 Zhang Renjun (Chinese: 張人駿), the Viceroy of Liangguang ordered Guangdong Fleet Admiral Li Zhun to sail to the island. His mission landed in June 1909. In 1932 French Indochina announced its claim to the archipelago.[10] A Franco-Vietnamese garrison was established on Woody Island in 1938.[11]

The island was occupied by Japan during World War II.[12] Following Japan's surrender at the end of the war, the Nationalist Chinese government sent naval expeditions to the South China Sea in 1946 to claim the Spratly and Paracel Islands, and established a permanent presence on Woody Island and Itu Aba.[12] They (re)named Woody Island "Yongxing (Yung-hsing) Island" after one of the Republic of China Navy warships, ROCS Yung-hsing (永興號).[13] The ROCS Yung-hsing was formerly the USS Embattle (AM-226) transferred to the ROC navy after the war. In January 1947, after making a failed attempt to dislodge the Chinese garrison from Woody Island, France established a permanent presence, on behalf of Vietnam, on Pattle Island in the western Paracels.[12]

After the Hainan Island Campaign in 1950 during the Chinese Civil War, the ROC garrisons on Woody Island and Itu Aba were withdrawn to Taiwan.[12] France had a chance to take over the islands, but decided not to, for fear of compromising its interests with the newly established PRC.[12] The islands were thus unoccupied for six years, except for seasonal inhabitation by fishermen from Hainan. In 1956, the PRC established a permanent presence on Woody Island.[7]

The Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) continued to exercise its sovereignty over the Crescent Group in the western part of the Paracel Islands after assuming control from the departing French colonialists, maintaining a military garrison on Pattle Island (Vietnamese: đảo Hoàng Sa) by Ngo Dinh Diem's executive order from 1956.[14] For the 20 years thereafter, conflicts between the two sides repeatedly erupted within the region. In January 1974, the PLA Navy captured the archipelago during the Battle of the Paracel Islands.[citation needed]


The island is located between the equator and the tropic of cancer, and falls in the "tropical marine monsoon climate" category. It experiences abundant rainfall, year-round high temperatures, high humidity and high salt. Coupled with generally clear skies and sunny weather, the annual average temperature is 26.5 °C (79.7 °F); the coldest average temperature in January is 23 °C (73 °F), the hottest average temperature in June is 29 °C (84 °F). The rainy season lasts for 5 to 6 months every year.[citation needed]

Claims and disputesEdit

Under PRC control, the island is administered by the Yongxingdao Town Government and is the seat of Sansha, a prefecture-level city of Hainan. In June 2014, UK newspaper The Independent stated that the island had a population of 1,443.[1]

As part of the Paracel Islands, the island is also claimed by Taiwan and by Vietnam.[15]

Structures and facilitiesEdit

Sansha city is located on Woody island. Woody Island has had two or three artificial harbors capable of docking vessels up to 5,000 tonnes. In 2008, the island's main sea transport was the freighter Qiongsha-3, (2,500 tonnes, 84m x 13.8m, 200 passengers and 750 tonnes of cargo); it was the only means of sea transport for non-military personnel such as fishermen and researchers. Each trip from Hainan to Woody island lasted from 13 to 15 hours.[citation needed]

In 1990, Chinese authorities built a runway and airport on the island. The Yongxing Island Airport was completed in July 1990,[16] with a 2,700-metre runway[17] that is capable of handling any fourth generation fighter aircraft of the PLA Naval Air Force such as the Chengdu J-10AH, Shenyang J-11BH, Xian JH-7A, and Sukhoi Su-30MK2.[18] Other constructions include three main roads and an 800-metre long cement causeway connecting to Rocky Island (石岛/đảo Đá).

Apart from government buildings and army posts, the island has various establishments. The island's administrative centre is located on Beijing Road, which has an Industrial and Commercial Bank of China branch, a hospital, various shops, hostels, food stations, a post office, small department stores and an aquatic company. A rescue centre was established on 15 July 2006.[19]

There are two museums on the island – Xisha Maritime Museum and a Naval Museum. Other monuments include towers left by the Imperial Japanese Army during WWII, a monument erected by the ROC government in 1946, and a monument erected by the PRC in 1974. Visitors to the island are required to obtain approval from PRC authorities in Haikou before departure. Hiring a fishing boat from Hainan to the island is possible.[citation needed]

On 10 April 2011, China National Radio (CNR) and Hainan People's Broadcasting Station began FM broadcasts on the island. This is in addition to mobile communications and satellite television which are available in the fishing villages of the Paracel Islands.[20][21]

China began construction on a school to serve about 40 children whose parents work on the island in June 2014, with construction expected to cost about 36 million yuan and take a year and a half.[1] It opened in December 2015.[22]

On 17 February 2016, the New York Times reported that an HQ-9 Surface to Air Missile system had been deployed on the island.[23] In July 2016, it was reported that Shenyang J-11BH fighter aircraft were deployed on the island.[24]

In April 2017, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative - a US think tank based in Washington - reported that a Shenyang J-11BH fighter aircraft was spotted on the island in satellite photos taken on 29 March 2017.[25]

On 22 July 2017, over 200 Chinese moviegoers attended a screening in a theater built on the island by the Hainan Film Company with up-to-date technology, including both 4K resolution and a 3-D perforated screen.[26]

In May 2018, based on PLA Air Force defence circulars and Chinese social media posts, the Washington Post and Washington based Asia maritime transparency initiative reported that China had landed long range bombers on the island as part of a defense exercise.[27][28]

Ecology and resourcesEdit

The island's flora is generally tropical, with an abundance of palm trees. There is also a vegetable plantation sized around one-fifteenth of a hectare (~700 sq m). The western portion of the island has a coconut grove. The island's domestic water supply is from rainwater collection. Additional drinking water is shipped from Hainan Island. Supply ships arrive monthly; during this time residents spend two days at the pier unloading materiel. A desalination plant completed in October 2016 is capable of treating 1,000 tonnes of seawater per day, bringing the total capacity of desalination equipment on the island to 1,800 tonnes of seawater per day.[29][30]


The island's civilian population generally consists of a small number of long-term fishermen's settlements maintained by a fisherman's village committee, and a larger number of short-term fishermen that visit the island, in addition to small numbers of government workers and tourists. Policemen and soldiers stationed on the island change shifts every two years, whereas civilian employees change shifts every six months. The town government began to build residential houses for permanent living of fishermen's families in 2014.[citation needed]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c "China begins building school on Yongxing island – that has disputed ownership with Vietnam". The Independent (UK). Associated Press. 15 June 2014.
    Somewhat differently reported version of same story: "China builds school on disputed island". Bangkok Post. Agence France-Presse. 15 June 2014.
    A third version; similar to the AP version, but much expanded with significant differences / additions: Associated Press in Beijing (15 June 2014). "China building school on island in South China Sea". South China Morning Post.
  2. ^ Beckman, Robert (1 September 2013). "The Unconvention on the Law of the Sea and the maritiome disputes in the South China Sea" (PDF). American Journal of International Law. 107: 142. Retrieved 4 June 2018.
  3. ^ "Airport classifications" (PDF). Indiana aviation authority. Indiana government. Retrieved 4 June 2018.
  4. ^ "Lecture - Airfield classificatons based on capacity" (PDF). MIT lectures - aueronautics. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Retrieved 4 June 2018.
  5. ^ "Agenda Item 1 - Civil aviation statistics - ICAO classificaiton and definition" (PDF). ICAO working papers - Montreal conference 2009. ICAO. Retrieved 4 June 2018.
  6. ^ 我国年内将开通海南到西沙永兴岛旅游航线 [China to Open Tourism Route Between Hainan Island and Yongxing Island This Year]. Xinkuai Bao (in Chinese). 29 March 2012.
  7. ^ a b Kivimäki 2002, p. 13.
  8. ^ Kivimäki 2002, p. 9.
  9. ^ "A visit to Sansha city". China Daily. 13 July 2012. Retrieved 1 June 2018.
  10. ^ "Paracel Islands". Encyclopædia Britannica.
  11. ^ "The Paracels: The Other South China Sea Dispute" pg 5
  12. ^ a b c d e Kivimäki 2002, p. 11.
  13. ^ 吕一燃 (Lu Yiran), 2007. 中国近代边界史 (A modern history of China's borders), Vol. 2. 四川人民出版社 (Sichuan People's Publishing), pp.1092–1093. ISBN 7220073313
  14. ^ "Chủ quyền Hoàng Sa và Trường Sa của Việt Nam giai đoạn 1954–1975"
  15. ^ Song Huong. "China brazenly imposes search of vessels in the East Sea". Authority of Foreign Information Service (Vietnam). Archived from the original on 10 December 2012. Retrieved 16 February 2013.
  16. ^ Bernstein, Richard; Munro, Ross H. (1998). The Coming Conflict with China. Vintage Books. p. 74. ISBN 978-0679776628.
  17. ^ 专家建议造浮岛机场让战机作战半径覆盖南海 [Experts Recommend Construction of a Floating Airbase to Allow Fighter Cover in the South China Sea] (in Chinese). Eastday. 4 June 2012. Retrieved 11 July 2012.
  18. ^ Chang, Andrei (26 September 2008). "Analysis: China's air-sea buildup". Retrieved 11 July 2012.
  19. ^ 交通部西沙救助基地15日在我国南海永兴岛启用 [Ministry of Transport Aid Station on Yongxing Island Starts Operations on the 15th.] (in Chinese). Xinhua News Agency. 15 July 2006.
  20. ^ "CNR program covers Yongxing Island". China Army. 12 April 2011.
  21. ^ 西沙永兴岛调频广播发射台昨天开始试播 [Yongxing Island FM Radio Transmitter Began Trials Yesterday] (in Chinese). China National Radio. 11 April 2011.
  22. ^ Kelly, Tim (15 December 2015). "U.S. Navy commander warns of possible South China Sea arms race". MSN.
  23. ^ "China Foreign Minister Downplays Missile Deployment Reports". The New York Times. Associated Press. 17 February 2016. Retrieved 17 February 2016.
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^ Taylor, Adam (24 July 2017). "On a disputed South China Sea island, Beijing unveils a high-tech cinema". The Washington Post. Retrieved 24 July 2017.
  27. ^ "CHINA LANDS BOMBERS ON ISLAND CLAIMS". Washington Post. 21 May 2018. Retrieved 31 May 2018.
  28. ^
  29. ^ "New desalinator put into use in China's Sansha". Xinhua 2 October 2016. Retrieved 24 July 2017.
  30. ^ Ankit Panda (4 October 2016). "South China Sea: China Activates First Desalination Plant on Woody Island". The Diplomat. Retrieved 24 July 2017.


External linksEdit