BEIJING—China’s military has dispatched ships and planes—even constructed new islands to assert its maritime claims. Now it’s deploying a new set of tools to uphold Chinese sovereignty: Magicians, singers and actors.
Famed singer of patriotic anthems Song Zuying headlined a tour of China’s man-made islands in the South China Sea’s Spratly islands this week, underscoring Beijing’s confidence in asserting its increasingly dominant position in the disputed region.
The performance, entitled “The People’s Navy Advances,” included songs, skits and magic tricks, part of a long tradition of the People’s Liberation Army art troops putting on shows to entertain, promote ideological conformity and stir public pride in the military and ruling Communist Party.
Among the songs performed: “Ode to the South Sea Defenders,” whose lyrics speak of “a troop of stout men with guns in their hands who battle the wind and fight the waves to guard the nation’s door.”
“On stilted platforms in the South Sea, (China’s) five-starred red flag flaps in the wind, I’ve tasted all types of bitterness in the South Sea, (but) the people’s happiness is my pride and glory,” the song continues.
The singer Song, a star of the military arts troupe who once performed with Celine Dion on state television, was a big hit with the construction workers and naval officers who attended the shows, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. The event was also recorded for broadcast by state-run CCTV.
“I was so excited for … the troupe to come to the front-line islands,” said Huang Tianjun, a member of the garrison atop Fiery Cross Reef. “We will most definitely hold fast here and defend every inch of the reef.”
Along with the reef, known as Yongshu in Chinese, where China has constructed a runway capable of handling its largest military aircraft, the performers also visited smaller Cuarteron Reef. Alongside China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei all claim territory in the area.
Photos of the performances that spread across state media on Wednesday offered a rare glimpse of the extensive work China has been carrying out in the area, showing lighthouses, harbours and buildings all built atop coral reefs covered in sand and concrete.
In the background of some can be seen one of the navy’s massive Type 071 amphibious dock ships capable of carrying four helicopters and as many as 800 troops.
Tensions have been rising in the area, in part because the U.S. has refused to acknowledge China’s newly built territories as enjoying the legal status of naturally occurring islands, with their accompanying territorial seas and exclusive economic zones. Although it takes no formal stance on sovereignty claims, Washington has insisted on freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and the Navy has sailed and flown past and over the new islands to drive home the point, prompting an angry response from Beijing.