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Sansha, China’s newest city, would seem to be a paradise. It has tropical waters, about 2 million sq km and just 3,500 permanent residents on 13 sq km of palm-covered islands. There’s an airstrip but no airlines yet, so transportation is still largely relegated to a 17-hour boat trip. But perhaps the biggest drawback is that it sits in the South China Sea, where rival territorial claims have intensified in recent months. On Tuesday, Sansha established a prefecture-level municipal government, and China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) says it will soon establish a military garrison there. Sansha is the tiniest city of its kind in China, but it is having an outsize impact on the country’s increasingly tense territorial disputes with some of its Southeast Asian neighbors.

(MORE:South China Sea Disputes: Is This How War Starts?)

China and Taiwan both claim almost all of the 3 million-sq-km…

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