Diplomatic storm over nationality of South China Sea island’s sole inhabitant

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By HUI JIA
Foreign Correspondent

Thakrat Samranpong, sole populant of Shadui, pictured in the newly founded provincial capital

SHADUI (China Daily Show) – A castaway on an obscure South China Seas deserted island has become the subject of a fierce nationality dispute, after vast deposits of rare minerals were uncovered in nearby waters.

Thakrat Samranpong is the only recorded inhabitant of the island of Shadui, several hundred miles off the south coast of Vietnam. The island is claimed by China, however, as well as every other nation within swimming distance.

Samranpong, 51, a former commodities trader from Bangkok who was stranded on Shadui after his yacht capsized during a solo fishing trip in 2005, has subsisted on raw shellfish and plant roots after Thai authorities failed to mount a rescue operation.

He was officially declared dead in Thailand in March 2006 and offered Chinese citizenship Saturday.

A China Citizenship Reclamation and Rescue (CCRR) patrol boat arrived after a three-day voyage to Samranpong’s island home where CCRR representatives sat down with the man Beijing is already calling the “newest addition to China’s diverse minority ethnicities.”

Over a state banquet of raw crab and palm root – samples of which are now being promoted in government canteens as typical Shadui culinary heritage – Chinese officials proposed to make Samranpong a Chinese citizen.

“He was dubious at first,” admitted Sanranpong’s legal representative, Ma Zhou. “After all, he would be one of the first persons in the world to actually request Chinese citizenship. But after they offered him a meal, bed and a hot shower, he signed all the releases.”

China has now appealed to the UN to acknowledge the “now-populated” nation of Shadui as its sovereign territory and is already busy promoting Shadui’s intangible cultural heritage.

New additions to the minorities exhibition of the National Museum of China – the  largest and most heavily censored museum in history – have been ordered by officials. The media this week was granted a sneak preview of forthcoming Shadui exhibits, which include Samranpong’s non-functioning mobile telephone, a single cuff link and a rock formerly used to smash crabs.

Samranpong is also due to appear in a hastily scheduled TV gala being arranged to mark the upcoming Dragon Boat Festival. He will perform a medley of songs and skits used to entertain himself during his lonely six-year vigil.

Artist’s impression of Shadui daily life, customs and traditions

“The honor of singing and dancing for the benefit of viewers is cherished by our minority peoples,” said a Ministry of Entertainment spokesman. “China embraces our newest brother and all his mineral deposits close to the motherland’s bosom.”

The diplomatic initiative has left other nations scrambling in the dust. Vietnam’s coastline is technically much closer than China to Shadui and officials there are said to be furious at this latest intervention in the disputed waters.

“You can’t argue that the teeming, newly-liberated masses of Shadui is due his rights as a Chinese citizen,” said Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs spokesman Yang Jiechi. “These islands are populated by a Chinese citizen. Other nations must relinquish their claims immediately.”

Samranpong himself, whose language has reportedly devolved through long isolation into a series of grunts and Thai, was unreachable for comment.

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