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China builds school on disputed island

| Sunday, June 15, 2014, 6:21 p.m.

BEIJING — China has begun building a school on a remote island in the South China Sea to serve the children of military personnel and others, expanding the rugged outpost it established two years ago to strengthen its claims to disputed waters and islands.

China built the settlement of Sansha — which Beijing designates a “city” and has a permanent population of 1,443 — on tiny Yongxing island to administer hundreds of thousands of square miles of water where it wants to strengthen its control over potentially oil-rich islands that are claimed by other Asian nations.

Vietnam, the Philippines and the United States criticized Beijing for establishing Sansha, saying it risked escalating regional tensions. The island, known as Woody Island, is about 220 miles south of China's southernmost province and is part of the Paracel chain, which is claimed by Vietnam.

Tensions in the area have escalated since China last month placed an oil rig in waters about 20 miles from the Paracel Islands, leading to ongoing sea confrontations between Chinese and Vietnamese vessels.

Construction on the school started on Saturday and is expected to take 18 months, the Sansha government said in a statement on its website. It said there were about 40 children of school age on Yongxing Island and that the school could educate the children of police, army personnel and civilians stationed on the islands, some of whom had to stay with grandparents in far-off hometowns.

When China established Sansha in July 2012, the outpost had a post office, bank, supermarket, hospital and a population of about 1,000. By December, it had a permanent population of 1,443, which can sometimes swell by 2,000, according to the Sansha government.

It has an airport, hotel, library, five main roads, cellphone coverage and a 24-hour satellite TV station, according to the government. It has a supply ship that brings in food, water, construction materials and people.

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