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China building school on remote island outpost to boost claim to disputed southern waters

China is 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 created two years ago to strengthen claims to disputed waters and islands.

China established 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 (kilometers) of water where China wants to strengthen its control over the potentially oil-rich territory.

Vietnam, the Philippines and the United States criticized Beijing for establishing Sansha, saying it risked escalating regional tensions. The island is about 350 kilometers (220 miles) south of China's southernmost province, in the Paracel chain, which is also claimed by Vietnam.

The Sansha government said in a statement on its website that construction on the school started Saturday and was expected to take 18 months. It said there were about 40 children of school age on Yongxing Island, and the school could also 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 created 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.

Now it has an airport, hotel, library and five main roads, mobile phone service coverage and a 24-hour satellite TV station. It also has its own supply ship that brings in food, water, construction materials as well as people who live and work on the island.