China's military this week sent a famed singer of patriotic anthems to perform before navy officers and construction workers on a newly created island in a disputed section of the South China Sea, underscoring its growing confidence in asserting its maritime claims.
The visit by Song Zuying and other performers was documented in photos spread across state media today that offered a rare glimpse of the extensive work China has been carrying out on the former coral reefs in the Spratly Islands, including lighthouses, harbors and buildings.
Several of the photos were accompanied by captions saying they had been taken yesterday on Cuarteron Reef that is also claimed by the Philippines.
In the background 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.
The official Xinhua News Agency said the group also performed a show entitled "The People's Navy Advances" on Monday evening on Fiery Cross Reef, where China has constructed a runway capable of handling its largest military aircraft. The show included magic tricks and songs such as "Ode to the South Sea Defenders," Xinhua said.
Tensions have been rising in the area, in part because the US 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 of competing 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.
China has said it will take whatever measures it considers necessary to defend its claim to virtually all of the South China Sea, its islands and reefs.
Song, a star of the military arts troupe who once performed with Celine Dion on state television, was a big hit with the workers and soldiers, Xinhua said in its account. "I was so excited for... The troupe to come to the front line islands," said one member of Fiery Cross' garrison, Huang Tianjun. "We will most definitely hold fast here and defend every inch of the reef.