This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
China has opened a huge hotpot restaurant on the main island it controls in the disputed South China Sea, a Hong Kong newspaper reported, drawing poor reviews from Hanoi for Beijing’s latest move to bolster claims over islands and waters seized from Vietnam nearly 50 years ago.
The South China Morning Post said the Kuanzhai Xiangzi hotpot restaurant opened late April on Woody Island, the largest natural land feature that China occupies in the South China Sea. The popular dish features raw ingredients such as meat, seafood and vegetables, cooked in a simmering broth and consumed in groups.
The opening of the 120-seat restaurant “marks the latest soft push from Beijing to consolidate its claims in the busy, strategically important waterway, most of which it claims under what it calls its historical ‘nine-dash line,’” the English-language daily said. The hard push was Chinese militarization of the islands, it added.
Woody Island, one of the Paracel Islands, serves as the headquarters for Sansha City, which China established in 2012 to administer all the islands it claims in the South China Sea and their surrounding waters.
The Paracel Islands, or Xisha Islands in Chinese, are claimed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan but occupied entirely by Beijing since 1974 after the Chinese Navy defeated the then South Vietnamese Navy in a brief sea battle that killed more than 50 South Vietnamese sailors.
China also occupies some of the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands in Chinese) that are claimed by some other neighboring countries such as Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.
“Vietnam has sufficient legal basis and historical evidence to assert our sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly archipelagos in accordance with international law,” said Pham Thu Hang, Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs deputy spokesperson.
“Vietnam has and is taking appropriate measures, which comply with international law, to ensure our legitimate rights and interests,” she told a news conference in Hanoi on Thursday.
The Post report quoted a Sansha executive named Wang Panpan as telling local broadcaster Hainan TV that the restaurant would “enrich the material and cultural life of the military, police and people on the island.”
The civilian population of Woody Island rose to about 2,300 in 2020, from 1,000 when the city of Sansha was set up in 2012, the newspaper said.
In major ongoing upgrades, China opened a civil-military airport in 2014, a kindergarten and primary school in 2015, and has since built a courthouse, a cinema, banks, hospitals, post offices, a stadium, it added.
Radio Free Asia reported in January that satellite imagery showed a Chinese air defense facility on Woody Island, with silos for permanent surface-to-air missiles.